There's No Constitutional Right to Convenient Guns

This is not a cupcake.

Photographer: Thomas Cooper/Getty Images

Relenting in the face of a 14-hour filibuster led by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to a vote next week on closing the so-called terror loophole. Better late than never.

The loophole is large, and dangerous. It enables suspects on national security watchlists to purchase high-powered firearms, including the kind of semi-automatic rifle used by the killer in last weekend’s mass shooting in Orlando.

The government’s system of multiple watchlists, like many aspects of anti-terrorism policy, is convoluted and imperfect. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the government claiming that the no-fly list, which prohibits those listed from boarding an airplane, violates due process rights.

There is no question that mistakes occur, not least when the names of innocent people are included on lists of suspected terrorists. But a bipartisan proposal by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, offers a way forward: While the attorney general would be allowed to stop a gun purchase by a potential terrorist, it would also give the thwarted purchaser the ability to appeal the decision. If a mistake were made, the ruling could be overturned.

Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas has countered with a proposal, backed the National Rifle Association, to require the government to prove probable cause for the ban before a judge. If the government failed, within 72 hours, to present sufficient evidence that the suspect had committed or was poised to commit terrorism, the firearm sale would go through -- no matter how dangerous the suspect.

“We don’t want to take away citizens’ rights without due process,” explained Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, where the King bill has been sidelined. What Ryan, the NRA and its supporters are lamenting is not an absence of due process, which the Feinstein/King bill affords. They are distressed over the loss of convenience.

There is a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. There is a constitutional right to due process. But the constitution contains no right of consumers to immediate gratification. Indeed, if Cornyn’s bill were to become law, a suspected terrorist on a watchlist would have a shorter waiting period to obtain a gun than the law-abiding residents of some states.

This same juvenile demand is used to justify thwarting the public’s overwhelming support for universal background checks. For some reason, legislators politically beholden to the NRA can’t fathom why the transfer of a semi-automatic killing machine should be slowed by a record check to make sure the buyer isn’t a terrorist or a felon.

It’s long past time to dispense with these shallow and misleading arguments, like so many others regurgitated at the gun lobby’s behest. The Senate should pass the Feinstein bill. The House should pass the King bill. American lives are worth a little inconvenience.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.