It has been over a week since the Orlando tragedy, but the horror of the worst mass shooting in United States history is still fresh on the minds of all Americans. It seems that we all agree that some sort of action should be taken, but that is where our unity ends. As a result of differing beliefs and partisan politics, we find ourselves divided over the two main courses of action that have been proposed – banning Muslim immigrants or banning assault weapons.
So, when the split between the liberals and conservatives is so severe, how do we decide on a course of action? As responsible citizens, we must look at the facts.
Option 1: Ban Muslim Immigration
Let’s begin by examining the position held by many leading conservatives, including the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump. As I mentioned in my earlier article, Radical Islam is a Radical Stereotype, Trump’s speech in response to the Orlando shooting made it clear that he intended to bring Muslim immigration to a grinding halt. Muslims wouldn’t be allowed to move here, and they wouldn’t be allowed to visit, period. Trump originally attempted to justify such drastic action back in December by claiming that various online polls, including one from the controversial Center for Security Policy, demonstrated widespread Muslim approval of jihadist terror activity against American citizens. (I would like to point out that many Muslim leaders and Muslim citizens around the world have condemned ISIS activity.)
In order to combat this “widespread Muslim hatred of Americans” and prevent further terrorist attacks, Trump, if elected, plans to place various restrictions on Muslim activity in the United States. In addition to banning any and all foreign Muslims from entering the country, Trump has also suggested that the government should place surveillance on mosques and create a database of all Muslim citizens. I would make another comparison to Hitler’s attitude and actions towards the Jewish population during World War II, but I already covered that in my Radical Islam article. Still, the similarities are easy to see.
Many people agree with Trump on this. Some of his supporters opposed the Muslim presence in America entirely, while others were more concerned with the terror risk that open Muslim immigration presented. Whatever their justifications may have been, the majority of Trump’s supporters made it clear that they had no issue with his proposed ban of Muslim immigration. This ban is not the radical idea of a single man; it is a plan that is supported by millions of Americans, and we must take it seriously.
Since Trump’s ban is something that could very well be passed into law, the implications of such an act must be examined. In order to avoid overloading myself and my readers with information, I will be focusing specifically on Syrian immigration. Over the course of the Syrian civil war, almost 5 million Syrians have registered as refugees with the United Nations, with the vast majority escaping to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Of those 5 million refugees, the United States has taken in only a few thousand since 2011, when the Syrian civil war began. For a country that prides itself on being both religiously tolerant and welcoming to immigrants looking to start a new life, we are doing an incredibly poor job of helping the people we claim to support. Perhaps we only help others not when it is the right thing to do, but when it is convenient for us.
These refugees are not terrorists. They are human beings, and they are doing everything they can to escape a living hell. Tens of thousands – maybe even hundreds of thousands – of people have died in Syria since the civil war began. If we are truly horrified by mass shootings such as the one that took place in Orlando, then we should be more than willing to help these refugees escape a country where gunfire and death have become the norm.
If we as Americans believe that we are living in the greatest country in the world, can we really fault immigrants for wanting to come here for a better life? Would we not do the same if we were in their position? Of course we would. So how can we condemn these people to remain in a country where they are in constant danger, knowing that we do so solely out of fear?
One and the Same
Almost every person in the United States today is able to call themselves an American because their ancestors immigrated to this country generations ago, often to escape some sort of poverty or persecution. Today, it seems that we are taking our status as Americans for granted, unwilling to admit that we are only able to claim such a title because we are all the descendants of immigrants. Our forefathers came to America for a better life, and now we threaten to demonstrate our blatant hypocrisy by denying Muslims that same opportunity.
The proposal to ban Muslim immigration is rooted in our own fear of terrorism, and that fear is making us blind to the benefits of accepting refugees. We can offer these refugees a better life, and these refugees can offer us a better America in turn. To quote U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “Today, they are refugees. Tomorrow, they can be students and professors, scientists and researchers, workers and caregivers.” If Donald Trump is the businessman he claims to be, he should know that this is a deal that will work out well for all parties.
But what about terrorists? Are we going to let them just walk into our country? Obviously, I don’t want to let terrorists just walk into America, but let’s face the facts. If they want to be here, they will find a way in. We are taking a risk by allowing Syrian refugees to enter the United States, I won’t deny that, but considering all of the good that we could do – all of the innocent lives that we could save – I would argue that accepting refugees is a risk we need to take. If we refuse to do so, if we renounce the beliefs of our forefathers and close our doors to those in need, then we cannot claim to be true Americans.
Option 2: Banning Assault Weapons
So, say we don’t ban Muslim immigrants from entering the country. How do we stop terrorism? Well, what have terrorists used for most of their attacks? Guns and explosives. After the 9/11 attacks, airport security in the United States increased drastically. While it may be inconvenient to deal with all of the scans and checkpoints that it takes to get onto an airplane these days, we all accept those annoyances because we believe that the protection from terrorism makes them worth it. The hijacked airplanes were tools – just like guns and explosives – that the 9/11 terrorists used to take thousands of lives. Those terrorists were Muslim, but instead of responding by banning all Muslim immigrants, we responded by increasing our airport security. We took away the tools that those terrorists used, and made future would-be hijackers powerless. If we’re going to stop further terrorist attacks, we need to extend this focus on security beyond our airports.
I’m not going to pretend that I know how we could stop bombings. Anyone who knows enough about electronics and chemistry can build a bomb out of almost anything. We can try to ban certain chemical components or monitor internet searches, but in the end, there’s not a whole lot we can do besides reporting suspicious activity and staying vigilant. Instead of focusing on what things we can’t prevent, let’s focus on the things we can fix.
A Flawed System
For airports, we increased security to prevent hijackings. In that case, we are restricting access to the tools that the 9/11 terrorists used to commit their mass murder. In the case of guns, however, we continue to do almost nothing. A background check at a gun store takes only a few minutes, and if a future terrorist can meet the criteria (not being a felon or mentally ill), then they can walk away with their brand new gun. As Doug Criss of cnn.com notes, “It is easier to get a gun than to get a puppy.” At least when someone wants a puppy they have to prove that they’re responsible.
Through most gun shows and other private gun sales, people can obtain guns without so much as a background check. I can’t begin to explain how ridiculous that is. In order to get my driver’s license, I had to provide proof of citizenship and residency, pass a vision, hearing, and driving test, and practice driving for almost a year beforehand. It was inconvenient, sure, but I’m glad that I had all those hoops to jump through. A car is not a toy; anyone driving a car is capable of killing themselves and others through even a slight mistake. To prevent such unnecessary deaths, we don’t let just anyone drive a car. You have to have a license, and those are not easy to get. Guns are also not toys, but they are almost as easy to acquire as a real toy.
We can’t continue to allow this. Guns aren’t just capable of killing, they are built for killing. They are used for killing every day. That needs to stop.
A Potential Solution
Before I am confronted by gun advocates exclaiming the importance of the Second Amendment and their right to bear arms and defend themselves, I would like to suggest a compromise. We are not going to ban all guns. Bolt-action hunting rifles and pistols are perfectly acceptable, and offer Americans the opportunity to defend themselves as well as hunt for sport and food. Assault weapons capable of killing multiple people in rapid succession, however, are entirely unnecessary.
They are not necessary for hunting. Humans have gone hunting for centuries equipped with far less. If you need an AR-15 to hunt a deer, you’re not a good hunter. I know I would probably need one, but that’s why I don’t hunt. Try a different hobby.
They are not necessary for home defense. Our police officers patrol the streets each day at risk of meeting criminals far more dangerous than the common burglar or thief, and yet they don’t see a need to carry anything more powerful than a standard pistol at all times. In a close-quarters situation, like the type you might encounter if you did find an intruder in your home, the mobility of a pistol would likely be more helpful than the power of an assault rifle in taking down the criminal. Unless the long-anticipated and highly unlikely zombie apocalypse begins tomorrow, an assault rifle will not be necessary to defend your home.
We can either ban Muslim immigrants from entering the United States, or we can ban the assault weapons that have been used in so many mass shootings around the country. In either case, there would still be those who managed to beat the system. We cannot prevent terrorism entirely. Both of our options for preventing terrorism still leave us at risk, but, in the words of John Oliver, “Any rational person knows you cannot completely eliminate risk, you can only manage it.”
So which risk do we choose to manage? Do we crack down on the risk of letting Muslims enter America, or do we focus on the risk of allowing guns and ammunition to be so loosely regulated? When you look at each issue on the most basic level, the answer becomes clear. Only a small minority of Muslims are terrorists, but 100% of guns are capable of killing people. Some guns are even capable of killing dozens of people in only minutes, and they are able to do so regardless of the race or religion of the shooter.
If we ban Muslim immigration, we are preventing a number of terrorist attacks, but we are also condemning thousands to suffer and die at the hands of the war and turmoil in the Middle East. If we place more restrictions on guns, we are doing everyone a favor. Refugees can find a better life in America, legal gun owners can still buy the guns they need to hunt and protect their families, and terrorists will, at the very least, have a much harder time acquiring the tools to commit atrocities such as the Orlando shooting. (Donald, if you are reading this, I will say it again. If you really are a great businessman, you will take the best deal here.)
To conclude, I will leave each of you with a final choice. It is clear that we are going to fight the terror threat, but we must decide how we are going to do so. Are we going to fight with fear in our eyes and hatred in our hearts, blaming millions of innocent people for the actions of a twisted few? Or are we going to recognize that we cannot defeat hate with hate, and choose instead to take actions that prevent anyone – not just Muslims – from having the means to commit an act of terror? The decision is yours.