By Jeremy Lott
James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers that “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
What came next is no less important but not quite so quoted: “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
Flowers and an American flag are seen on the ground near the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Madison claimed the absence of angels introduced a “great difficulty” in “framing a government,” because “You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control” – and thereby limit – “itself.”
What was true over 200 years ago is still true today. We know that Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen was no angel. He was born in New York to Afghan parents, including a bizarrely pro-Taliban father. A former colleague charged that Mateen frequently made offensive comments and talked about killing people. His ex-wife alleges he beat her. He was twice investigated by the FBI.
And on Saturday night, he drove to Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida with anything but angelic intentions. Mateen called 911, pledged his allegiance to ISIS, and opened fire. He managed to do a tremendous amount of damage in a packed club of 300 people. Over 100 were injured in some way, 49 died, and Mateen himself was killed by police in a pitched firefight. Though some would quibble with the term, it was the most effective terror attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.
Politicians and pundits are peddling certainty here as if they possessed a sort of angelic or even God-like knowledge. If only the FBI had decided he was a prosecutable threat when they interviewed him, this wouldn’t have happened. If only we had more effective gun control, there’s no way he could have got hold of the death-dealing weapons that allowed him to run riot. If only President Obama hadn’t called ISIS “the JV team,” they wouldn’t have been so successful and inspired this wannabe to go out in a blaze of glory.
If only we had a time machine, in other words. But there’s no DeLorean in sight. In an email to supporters and in a speech, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump adapted his famous slogan, saying it was time to “Make America Safe Again.” Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton also gave a speech with essentially that message, though they bickered over how to ensure our safety.
There are things that will be done to try to prevent future Mateens from going off, or going off quite so spectacularly. Expect the FBI to lean more toward suggesting prosecutions for borderline cases in the future, for instance. Behind the scenes, expect tips to law enforcement from American Muslims about some of their more radical, unbalanced brethren to skyrocket. Yet all the speechifying and the reassurances and heightened levels of alertness essentially serve the purpose of security theater, not actual enhanced American security.
The sad thing is, in some ways that is preferable to the enterprising schemes our elected leaders are trying to shoehorn Orlando into. Liberals were depressingly and reflexively quick to call for more gun control, disregarding the basic facts of firearms ownership in America. There are hundreds of millions of guns in private ownership and a populace that believes it has a right to those arms. The issue is jihadis, not their guns.
Too many conservatives also made a knee-jerk judgment that what Orlando really calls for is more regime change, faster, in majority Muslim countries. There are several problems with that action item, chief of which is that our own radical Muslim terrorists have varied backgrounds and grievances.
Most of the 9/11 hijakers were Saudis. The Boston Marathon-bombing Tsarnaev brothers were Chechens, given refuge here against Russia’s version of a war on terror. The latest nightclub shooter was of Afghan extraction and reportedly had great difficulty differentiating between ISIS, al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Mateen simply knew that he sided with “them,” against Americans.
And so Madison’s “great difficulty” is with us still today. It’s easy to see that men like Mateen are the opposite of angels and that we need stern government measures to deal with them. It’s less easy, and somewhat offensive at a time like this, to point out that the politicians urging new measures on us aren’t angels either.
Jeremy Lott is a senior fellow at Defense Priorities.
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