Frank J. Batavick | Columnist
Sometimes it feels as if our nation is lost hopelessly in the mirror maze of a fun house. Even when easy and logical courses of action lie before us, we illogically take wrong turns and end up where we started. Déjà vu meets déjà vu on a regular basis here. On December 2, two radicalized Muslims committed a horrific act of terror in San Bernadino, California, claiming the lives of 14 people and wounding 21.
The perps were a Chicago-born, Pakistani-American male, Syed Rizwan Farook, who traveled freely to the birthplace of radical Islam, Saudi Arabia, and a Pakistani female, Tashfeen Malik. She moved to Saudi Arabia, but returned to Pakistan, a bubbling cauldron of terrorism, to study until 2012. Syed met Malik on a dating website, travelled to Saudi Arabia, and returned to the U.S. with his true love who claimed legal status through what’s known as a “fiancé” visa. The two quickly married and had a baby girl. So far, so good, right? Computer dating in the global village and the couple lived happily ever after. Well, not exactly.
Apparently, one of their pastimes was watching the fiery Internet sermons of Abu Bakr al-Baghdad, the radical religious leader of ISIS. Their next step was easy if you live in the good ol’ U S of A. Syed was able to go to any “Guns ‘R Us” store and buy two semiautomatic, 9mm pistols and an armory of ammunition, more than 6,000 rounds. Then, probably fearing that he was pushing his luck, he either had an acquaintance buy two AR-15-style rifles for him, or he bought them from this friend.
The killers and their accomplice legally purchased these weapons under California law. They next easily altered the two .223-caliber semiautomatic, assault rifles. One was fixed to enable it to fire in fully automatic mode, while the other was modified to fit a large-capacity magazine. These modifications violated the state’s ban on assault weapons, but such changes are almost impossible to detect and prevent.
The rifles were "California legal" versions of semiautomatic weapons because they had "bullet buttons." These require the insertion of a loose round or some other tool to detach the magazine. If they actually had detachable magazines, they would meet the state's definition of "assault weapon.” Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, explains, "The gun industry is expert at marketing military-bred weapons with a wink and a nod, and they're constantly working to skirt the law, as we've seen in California."
There are many things wrong with this narrative. First, people who travel freely to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan but live in America should be on some kind of a “watch” list. I know this smacks of profiling, but a young man who fits this description should be monitored. Then, if he legally purchases a firearm, a small bell should go off somewhere to “up” the level of surveillance. This should apply even if he passes a background check, as Sayed did. That’s because such checks only report any disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record, not political inclinations. Next and most obviously, it should not be so easy to transfer ownership of legally purchased weapons, nor to turn them into high octane killing machines.
So what did our nation’s leaders do to address these threats to a safe society? Now we come to the mirror maze part. On December 3, Senate Republicans blocked a bill designed to expand background checks to include gun shows and online firearm sales, and that also prohibited convicted felons and the mentally ill from having access to weapons. Republicans also blocked a bill that would have closed a legal loophole that allows gun purchases by terrorists. The Department of Homeland Security’s current budget is $38.2 billion. This dwarfs the NRA’s budget, but its “campaign contributions” now trump the DHS and make the NRA complicit in any threats to the homeland and public safety.
The Second Amendment was not written to allow every Tom, Dick, and Syed to form his own militia. It provided for a home defense force, a National Guard in today’s parlance. Sure, people should be allowed to have rifles to hunt and pistols to defend themselves. But no one, especially a guy who takes regular jaunts to Saudi Arabia, should be permitted to own military-style weapons. That’s just asking for trouble, and trouble is what we now have.
Frank Batavick is a graduate of Gloucester Catholic (‘63) and La Salle University ('67) with over 40 years of experience as a television writer/producer/director for public TV and media companies in IN and NJ. He has also served as adjunct faculty and visiting professor in Communications at colleges and universities in NY and MD. Frank now lives in MD with his wife Dori (GCHS, ‘63), where he is the vice chair of the Historical Society of Carroll County’s board of trustees, editor of the Carroll History Journal, and a weekly columnist and occasional feature writer for the Carroll County Times.