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There's more than one lesson in the sniper case.

Reader comment on item: [Beltway Snipers]: Converts to Violence?

Submitted by John Hadjisky (United States), Oct 25, 2002 at 19:20

One solution would be to pass something like the Alien & Sedition Acts (I think it was called) in the previous century, when the little more than the mere verbal act of advocating Anarchy or Socialism was punished by deportation or prison. After all, we suspend habeas corpus during times of war, don't we? Rights in a democracy are supposed to be able to be flexible in response to changing threats, aren't we?

One of the reasons I contribute to the forum is that Pipes not only has the courage to make his points forcefully and unapologetically, but also because Pipes takes the time to make reasoned, nuanced arguments rather than blanket generalizations.

It is in that spirit that I want to suggest the following: Dr. Pipes is certainly correct that such terrorism challenges us to confront troubling questions about what to do about the recruiters, or ideological "enablers" who appear to inspire the terrorists. But first consider the lesson implicit in how we caught the sniper himself.

The horrific sniper incident was used as an excuse by some to push for a mandatory gun "fingerprinting" scheme that, aside from the practical problems (gun "prints" change with age, can easily be altered, and only identify the original owner), has serious implications for our rights. The right to bear arms is as integral to our Constitution and traditions of liberty as is the right not to incriminate oneself, or the doctrine of privacy. There's a reason we don't file fingerprint and DNA samples of all babies at birth (which by the way would be far, far more cost-effective than this gun scheme, since fingerprints don't change and we already have a vast, computerized system for efficiently matching human prints).

The lesson is, the authorities caught the sniper by a combination of citizen vigilance, massed police power, and (after a few false starts! but we're all human) solid police work. It turns out it wasn't necessary to curtail core liberties in order to catch a terrorist; you just have to have the people on your side and to work a little harder and smarter.

I think we should keep this lesson in mind when thinking about how to respond to the terrorists' "enablers". Before we pass new laws (for example making it illegal to advocate that the Constitution be replaced by the Koran), why not first insist that law enforcement be more effective? If the FBI, INS, etc. were better organized, we'd probably "discover" that a great many enablers have already seriously broken many existing laws (fraud, money laundering, illegal immigration, RICO, etc).

Rather than giving away our rights to some 21st Century neo-Sedition law in order to inhibit the "enablers", why not first make a promise as citizens to peacefully (!) but vehemently protest ANY militant Islam organization or nest of campus radicalism we find in our communities. Why not volunteer in the prisons where so many of these radicals get recruited?

People, liberty is precious. Don't think that you can rely on our politicians to protect it for you. Protect it yourself. Get involved.
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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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