Friday, June 17, 2016

No-Fly List, Wrong Mouse Trap

U.S.  Senator Chris Murphy in mid-June spent 14 hours filibustering other Senators in an attempt to force them to accept a piece of legislation that denies specific weapons to people who have been placed on a terrorist no-fly list. Apart from Mr. Murphy's half-baked factoids, there are numerous problems with this approach.

The watch list itself is a defective mousetrap.  The list has ensnared people who obviously are not terrorists, such as Steve Hayes -- a conservative writer unrelated to Cheshire multiple murderer Steven Hayes -- whose work appears regularly in prospective Republican Party Presidential Nominee Donald Trump’s least favorite magazine, The Weekly Standard. Some people suppose that anyone who opposes the prevailing regime, Republican or Democrat, may find himself shorn of his or her Constitutional right to bear arms or travel freely if the defective no-fly list is used to deny them specific weapons, what have been called “weapons of war” by Hillary Clinton, the prospective Democratic Party Presidential candidate and others – most vehemently by filibusterer Murphy. The AR15, a weapon used in both the Sandy Hook slaughter and the Orlando slaughter, is not “a weapon of war” because it is not an “automatic weapon.” The AR15, banned in Connecticut, is the most popular semi-automatic sporting rifle in the United States.

It should be noted that the legislation supported by Mr. Murphy outlaws a long-rifle, but in fact most murders in the United States are committed by those wielding handguns, many of whom are ex-felons or gang members operating in cities untouched by Connecticut’s gun laws. Months after Connecticut’s General Assembly passed its own restrictive gun laws, provisions U.S. Senators Murphy and Dick Blumenthal believe should serve as a templet for national legislation, the state’s Capital City, Hartford, where legislators hammered out the more restrictive gun bill, was cited as the murder capital of New England.

The same General Assembly that passed the more restrictive gun laws in Connecticut abolished capital punishment for felons convicted of multiple murders, the murder of a police officer or a prison guard or, for that matter, those convicted of terrorist activity. The abolition of the death penalty, which applies without exception to all felony murders, is non-discriminatory, and Connecticut now is out-rigged with a penology that is all carrot and no stick.

The anti-capital punishment crowd in the General Assembly argued that capital punishment was not a deterrent because it was so infrequently imposed. For purely political reasons, the General Assembly applied the law prospectively. The 11 men on death row were left to face the death penalty in the absence of a law prescribing execution, because legislators who voted to repeal capital punishment thought it impolitic to adjust their sentences to life in prison so soon after two convicted murderers had raped a mother and one of two daughters, murdering three women in Cheshire. The legislators doubtless suspected that Connecticut’s Supreme Court, not a friend of the death penalty, would later declare the capital punishment unconstitutional and remove the prospect of death from the necks of the 11 men awaiting execution on Death Row, thus relieving the adherents of a new moral order of the necessity of writing a retrospective law abolishing the death penalty that was both rational and just.

Their ardent wishes were realized when Connecticut’s Supreme Court declared in a decision roughly criticized in a stinging dissent written by Chief Justice Chase Rogers that the death penalty “no longer comports with evolved societal values -- this only two years after cowardly state representatives, all Democrats, had passed legislation that retained the penalty for the 11 men on Death Row who previously had been convicted of heinous crimes. Ms. Rogers accused the court of substituting its rarified moral judgment on evolving values for those of past legislatures that had affirmed the law. During the long period of debate and arm pulling that preceded abolition, the easily troubled consciences of all the Democratic members of the Connecticut U.S. Delegation were unruffled. No tears flowed from the eyes of Connecticut legislators publicly empathizing with the victims of the Cheshire murderers. And in Connecticut’s General Assembly, no one filibustered the legislation that later was shown to be defective by the state’s high court.

Mr. Murphy – and other legislators who weep copiously over murder statistics in the United States – could better turn their efforts towards building a more effective mousetrap. The defective no-fly list should be abandoned in favor of a different list that might help to deter gun crimes in cities: In Chicago alone, murders have increased an alarming 72 percent in 2016, many of the shootings having been committed by gang members or previously convicted felons armed with semi-automatic pistols, every bit as dangerous as long-guns. Now, the difference between “convicted felon” Steven Hayes, one of the two Cheshire murderers, and the Steve Hayes whose name unaccountably appeared on a no-fly list, is that one had and one had not been imprisoned for crimes. Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisajevsky, the Cheshire murderers, both had long, easily verifiable rap sheets as petty criminals before they graduated to the big leagues.

So… why not put under surveillance and bring to public notice the greater number of persistent criminals previously convicted of crimes involving the use of a gun or other dangerous weapons, including baseball bats, knives, fists and feet? The list might also deny firearms to proven gang members and – women who vote certainly would appreciate this addition – anyone who has been convicted of rape.

Here in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy’s prison guru, Mike Lawlor, has created a program that awards get-out-of-jail-early credits to convicted and imprisoned rapists. Felons who have committed crimes in which guns were used, provided no capital offence has been committed, are not excluded from Mr. Lawlor’s program, which was smuggled through the General Assembly in an implementer bill that avoided oversight by the usual vetting committees -- not to mention a filibuster by aggrieved defenders of rape victims. The program's glaring defects apparently have not wounded the tender consciences of any of the members of Connecticut's U.S. Congressional Delegation. Shouldn’t there be a federal law preventing state legislators from awarding prison reductions to rapists or gang members or felons who previously had used guns in the commission of crimes?

Such a list, it may be objected, would be redundant – because laws already exist that prevent the sale of a gun to those who do not have gun permits, and the law is easily skirted by professional terrorists or criminals. Big deal -- the same objection may be leveled at those who want to connect the gun purchasing dot to the no-fly list dot.

Laws restricting gun purchases to violent felons would be redundant, it may be said because criminals operating in high gun crime areas outside the law – outlaws, we call them – scoff at such laws as are scrupulously observed by non-criminals who purchase long guns such as the AR15 for use in sport shooting or for self-defense against … well, petty criminals turned murderers, such as one of the two Cheshire multiple-murderers whose sentence for capital felony has just been vacated by Connecticut’s high court.

Many federal laws are skirted by criminals. The same may be said of potential terrorists. But the working list will not be redundant; it will bring together in a single data file the names of all convicted criminals who have used a lethal weapon in the commission of a crime, present fewer problems than the defective no-fly list and include the greater number of people who should be restricted from weapons purchases. The data file might be expanded to include the names of those who are under surveillance for possible terrorist activity. Replacing a defective no-fly list with a data file that may be used to deny gun purchases of any kind to dangerous convicted felons and others might assure the public that criminals rather than law abiding citizens might be prevented from acquiring the lethal weapons of choice among criminals, not simply a weapon of the month selected by legislators skilled in the fine art of never letting a crisis go to waste.
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