The Soup Nazi character in the Seinfeld television show sells, at his take-out restaurant, soup that some people consider the best in New York City. But, there is a catch. Customers placing their orders at the restaurant’s counter are in fear that one mistake in phrasing or some other minor misstep will draw the ire of the Soup Nazi along with his decree “No soup for you!”
In a CBS television interview the day of the killings in San Bernardino, California, President Barack Obama effectively proposed giving an unknown number of nameless bureaucrats arbitrary “Soup Nazi” power to decide which individuals in America may or may not possess or obtain guns. If Obama’s proposal becomes law, one bureaucrat, based on the flimsiest of reason or an outright mistake, could summarily decree an individual barred from gun ownership. “No gun for you!”
Here is what Obama, in his own words, recommends in the Wednesday interview:
And for those who are concerned about terrorism, some may be aware of the fact that we have a no-fly list where people can't get on planes, but those same people who we don't allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there's nothing that we can do to stop them. That's a law that needs to be changed.The next day, a vote was held in the US Senate regarding an amendment offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that would, in line with Obama’s recommendation, allow the US government to decree that individuals with some supposed connection to a terrorism threat are barred from accessing guns. By a 54 to 45 vote, senators voted not to move forward with the amendment.
Obama’s proposal may seem reasonable to many people. But, the apparent reasonableness arises from the assumption that the No Fly List is composed of people who have been objectively determined to be terrorists through an exhaustive, fastidious, and transparent process that is consistent with US constitutional principles.
That assumption could hardly be further from the truth. As I examined in my article “The Abominable No Fly List” in October of last year, the operation of the No Fly List is both arbitrary and an absolute menace to liberty.
That article provides an introduction to the Kafkaesque horror of the No Fly List. Here are a few of the major points. People’s names are put on the No Fly List through an entirely secret process that allows a person to be included and retained indefinitely on the list without any evidence whatsoever that the person has any connection to terrorism. Indeed, a person can even be included on the list via clerical error. In its own internal review, the US government even determined in 2007 that tens of thousands of names were improperly included on the No Fly List. Further, the list is operated without even the slightest regard for the due process rights of the people put on the list. The government does not even tell people they have been put on the list. Instead, a person who just wants to travel from point A to point B is told “No flight for you!” — likely after a long interrogation — and turned away without further explanation. Want to find out if you are on the No Fly List and to try to regain the US government’s respect for your right to fly? Here is what you do: Hire some lawyers; sue the US government; proceed through a long, expensive, and arduous court case (maybe held largely in secret to protect “state secrets”); and cross your fingers.
New York state’s 2013 Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act provides a preview for what Obama’s proposal may look like if implemented. Under the state law, tens of thousands of individuals have been put on a “No Guns List” resulting in the disavowal of their right to keep and bear arms. The purported purpose is to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental problems, not terrorists. But, the result is largely the same — the arbitrary restriction of the liberty of people based on bureaucrats’ whims and rote paperwork moving. County government officials rubber-stamp the reports received from health care workers asserting people’s mental problems. In turn, state employees routinely dump the reported individuals into the state’s No Guns List.
Meanwhile, the United States Department of Veterans Administration (VA) has been operating a program similar to the New York “No Guns List.” The VA reports veterans’ mental health information that the FBI then uses to add people to the gun-possession-barring National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) list. True to the No Fly List model, this is all done without the slightest respect being given to the veterans’ rights, including the right to due process.
Underlying both the ongoing mental health and the proposed terrorism-based prohibitions on the exercise of gun rights is the notion that it is legitimate for the government to outlaw the exercise of individual rights absolutely, indefinitely, and without a due process and innocent-until-proven-guilty-respecting fair adjudication of the particular facts related to the individual affected. This can only be considered justice in a perverted sense of, say, precrime justice, Star Chamber justice, or street justice. It is not the kind of justice contemplated in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution.
You may feel slighted if the Soup Nazi shouts out at you with disdain “No soup for you!” But, it’s New York City after all; you can pick up a sandwich or a pizza slice a few doors over, and a good enough soup is available at the diner around the corner. In contrast, when the US government says “No gun for you!” you are left with only bad options — accept the deprivation of your ability to possess guns or break the law and risk suffering the legal consequences, including prison time, should you be caught.
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