In This Age of Terrorism, Lax Gun Laws Are a Liability

uncle sam putting his finger in the barrel of a handgun
uncle sam putting his finger in the barrel of a handgun

The whys of the mass shooting in San Bernardino remain murky, but the shooters' possible connection to DAESH, and the ease with which they obtained mostly legal weapons suggest that the NRA and the gun manufacturers' ease-of-access agenda under their Second Amendment umbrella may pose a huge security threat to the United States.

From Columbine to Sandy Hook to Colorado Springs and the hundreds of mass killings before and between, the pro-gun lobby's argument has always been about the Second Amendment. The San Bernardino shooting changes all of that. The FBI is treating this particular killing spree as a domestic terrorism incident.

So the new questions arise:

Is the "fun" of a gun enthusiast owning and shooting weapons that can be easily converted to automatic status a national security risk in this age of terrorism where anyone in a population can be radicalized?

Are our lax gun laws, designed for maximum profit of the weapons manufacturers, now a liability?

The rifles used in the San Bernardino shooting spree, AR-15s, the civilian flavor of the military M-16, were legally obtained and then modified to turn them back into fully automatic assault rifles.

Weapons capable of inflicting mass casualties are readily available in the United States. There are roughly 3.5M to 4M of these assault-style weapons that have been sold. AR-15s are estimated by some sources to make up 20 percent or 700,000 to 800,000 of that number, and, because they can be modified easily, seem to be a weapon of choice for mass killings.

Gun enthusiasts have steadfastly opposed any ban on assault weapons. They have even sneered at the term.

"It's relatively easy to circumvent a firearms ban based on cosmetic features. A pistol grip does not change the function of the firearm," Paul Valone of Grass Roots North Carolina told NBC News. "None of these things make any difference whatsoever."

Our hodgepodge of state laws banning gun sales to various individuals, from parolees to the mentally ill, are barely functional. Amazingly, our shoddy security apparatus doesn't even screen gun applications for terrorist sympathies or connectivity either.

"Membership in a terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law," the Government Accountability Office also reported in 2010. The GAO said it did not have data on how many firearms purchases were completed because dealers are not required to submit that information to the FBI." Newsweek reported. They estimate that 2,000 suspected terrorists were able to obtain weapons legally as a result between 2000 and 2014.

National security doesn't apparently mean much to Republicans in the U.S. Senate, or to the four senators running for President. Thursday, the GOP roundly defeated a bill in the Senate that would require expanded FBI background checks on all gun purchases.

Yet this body that is supposed to do the will of the people isn't listening. According to an August, 2015 study by Pew Research, 85 percent of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, support such background checks.

For years, those tasked with national security have concentrated their attention on the "big attack." The Bin Laden style theatrics of blowing up a symbol of American economic, military or political might. The attacks on our transportation infrastructure that have hardened airports, rail travel, and large sporting and concert events.

DAESH and its supporters, whether they are fully affiliated or not, have demonstrated that, in this age of mass communication, it is very easy to activate individuals who are very hard to detect. The attack in Texas in May and the one in San Bernardino last week point to this vulnerability.

"While the U.S.-based ISIS supporters who have been charged come from a wide range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, many share core characteristics: they were American-born, under age 30, and had no previous history of radical views or activities," says a recent paper by George Washington University, "ISIS in America, from Retweets to Raqqa."

Since 2008, the Justice Department and the FBI have turned their focus on to what FBI Director Robert Mueller described as "self-radicalized, homegrown extremists in the United States."

Gun owners will likely put forth the claim that their millions of weapons, both assault-grade and handguns, are all that stand between America and terrorist Armageddon. One sheriff in New York actually urged his citizens to carry weapons.

This is not a situation, though, where there is safety in numbers. Jihadist shootings are likely to increase, particularly if the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the gun lobby use their GOP advocates to thwart improvements to FBI background checks.

Terrorism is real, is here, and is the justification for lowering the collateral damage of assault weapons.

It would be false to say there is no reason for someone to own an assault weapon. People own them largely for the pleasure of shooting them. Some own them to defend against everything from burglars to black helicopter invasions to the threat of terrorism. Big sticks to protect themselves or their families.

Their ease of conversion to automatic, though, and their lethality, suggest that this is no longer a Second Amendment issue. It's a Homeland Security issue. On that score, assault weapons and their easy availability represent a clear and present danger to the security of the United States.

Assault weapons must be banned. The FBI must be allowed to improve background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists.

The amazing thing is not that homegrown terrorists are arming themselves and shooting up soft targets like the one in San Bernardino.

The amazing thing is that it has taken this long for it to start.