Don’t let Syrian or Iraqi refugees into our country, goes the argument, because terrorists might sneak in with them.

But as Friday’s shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood offices proved once again, terrorists are already here. And pro-gun leaders and organizations continue to block legislation that would make it difficult for them to get guns.

Over the past decade, individuals on the FBI’s consolidated terrorist watch list have bought more than 2,000 handguns or assault-style rifles in this country, perfectly legally.

Fewer than 10 percent of those with potential terror ties are turned down. And the reported total of gun purchases is likely low, as an FBI programming error made only partial data available for 2011 and 2012.

Accused murderer Robert Lewis Dear in mugshots taken after his arrest on Friday.
Accused murderer Robert Lewis Dear in mugshots taken after his arrest on Friday. Colorado Springs Police Department

Robert Lewis Dear, accused of shooting to death three people and wounding nine others in that shooting in Colorado Springs last Friday, wasn’t on the FBI watch list. But the domestic terrorism of which he is accused is exactly the sort of thing the watch list is intended to help prevent.

A 57-year-old with a long history of violence, including arrests for rape and domestic abuse, and run-ins with law enforcement, Dear is described by his second of three wives as politically conservative, someone who “claims to be Christian and is extremely evangelistic,” but who is prone to violent outbursts of anger. According to the New York Times, others described him as a “staunch abortion opponent” who praised others who had attacked abortion providers as carrying out “God’s work.”

A Colorado Springs neighbor who met Dear for the first time last summer said that within minutes of their initial encounter, Dear ranted against President Obama and tried to give him several anti-Obama pamphlets. The man rejected them, thinking it “weird that we had just met him for five minutes and he starts with that.”

Dear’s expressed motive for the grisly day of domestic terrorism hasn’t been disclosed. But the details above, combined with the fact that he called for “no more baby parts” as he was being arrested (and used the phrase several times during police interviews) have led many to believe his intent was to terrorize abortion providers and exact God’s judgment on those he deemed sinners.

Creating An Environment Conducive To Terror

Threats against Planned Parenthood locations have spiked in recent months, as GOP candidates and elected officials continue to stoke outrage (most notably, Carly Fiorina at a GOP debate in September) over a discredited video that purports to show an official with the nonprofit organization discussing selling fetal tissue for research purposes. The Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion activist group that produced the misleading video, promoted it on social media with the hashtag #PPSellsBabyParts.

That has led many in recent days to denounce the often-hostile anti-abortion rhetoric of the right wing as creating an environment that encourages individuals such as Dear to act out violently. There is, thankfully, a growing consensus that Dear’s actions constitute domestic terrorism and ought to be called such.

Presidential candidates Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee were the only two GOP candidates to use that phrase (though Huckabee, Fiorina and Donald Trump were among those who used the situation to criticize Planned Parenthood), but Planned Parenthood leaders and others were quick to use it, as well.

Jennifer Markovsky and one of her children. The mother of two and Wainae High graduate was slain in Friday's attack.
Jennifer Markovsky and one of her children. The mother of two and Wainae High graduate was slain in Friday’s attack. 

One of the innocents tragically caught in Friday’s sad, crazed attack was Jennifer Markovsky, 35, a wife, stay-at-home mother of a young son and daughter, and a 1997 graduate of Waianae High School on Oahu. Markovsky was accompanying a friend who had an appointment at the Planned Parenthood clinic. Her husband, Paul, a twice-deployed serviceman in the U.S. Army Reserves, released a brief statement on Monday.

“She was a very caring and compassionate person and patient and understanding parent. She was deeply loved by all who knew her,” read Paul’s statement in part. “She was always helping the kids do homework and reading books with them. We will miss her; her cooking, crafting and adventurous spirit.”

The other two deceased victims in this attack were an Iraq war veteran and a young police officer who also served as a co-pastor at a local church. None of them, any more than anyone else at the clinic, deserved to die at the hands of a domestic terrorist.

But what good does it do to classify acts like this as terrorism if we can’t muster the political will to keep weapons out of the hands of would-be terrorists? For eight years now, elected officials in Washington have sought to pass legislation banning the sale of firearms to those suspected of having ties to terrorism.

The latest bill, the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015, awaits congressional action now. As with similar bills in years past, it is likely to be opposed by the National Rifle Association on grounds that sometimes innocent people wind up on watch lists and shouldn’t have their gun rights infringed upon.

But the new bill allows anyone who believes they’re on the watch list in error to challenge the listing. There is no compelling reason, then, to oppose it. And any delay in passing it simply means that those with an interest in violent terror — people much like Robert Lewis Dear — continue to have easy access to guns that will allow them to make a deadly point.

Rather than fast-tracking that bill, GOP leaders in the U.S. Senate plan to use the controversial procedure of “budget reconciliation” to try, yet again, to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act this week, and within that to partially eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Calling their Planned Parenthood defunding plans and the Planned Parenthood shootings “separate issues completely,” Senate GOP leaders have announced no plans to take up the measure to deny firearms to terrorists.

Last Friday’s attack is far from the first on clinics that provide abortions, and it is unlikely to be the last, just as Dear is unlikely to be the last lone-wolf terrorist ready to drive a political, legal or social policy agenda with bullets, or worse.

Make no mistake; if Congress fails to act, then when one of those on the FBI watch list mounts an attack — someone able to buy weapons because of that inaction — those leaders in Washington beholden to the arms’ makers lobby known as the NRA will have blood on their hands.

Editor’s Note: A crowdfunding page has been set up for the Markovsky family and as of Wednesday early afternoon has raised nearly $29,000 against a $75,000 goal. Click here to make a contribution to help cover funeral and future child care needs.

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