Over the weekend, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson mildly freaked a few people out by telling shoppers at the consumer mecca that is the Mall of America that they should be "vigilant" over calls by Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab for sympathetic lone wolves to carry out attacks at several high-profile shopping centers. Nothing starts Americans into a fainting orgy like someone telling them not to go shopping, so DHS later clarified that "Sec. Johnson didn't say that they should not go to the mall, he told shoppers to be extra vigilant and that security was increased."
The threat, made via social media video, did not correspond to any specific plot, according to the FBI, but this sort of propaganda has attracted thousands to the ISIS cause, and may have inspired several recent "lone wolf" attacks. At Thursday's White House daily briefing, I asked Press Secretary Josh Earnest if there's any thought to a renewed push to prevent the sort of attack that Al Shabaab carried out in Nairobi by, oh, I don't know, making it illegal for people to sell guns to terrorists at gun shows:
Tommy Christopher: "We heard about this threat from al-Shabaab on the Mall of America over the weekend. And under current law, as I'm sure you’re aware, that there’s nothing to prevent a couple of lone wolves from going to a gun show and getting everything that they need to inflict mass causalities at a place like the Mall of America. So what I'm wondering is if there is any sort of thought being given to close the gun show loophole and strengthen background checks in the interest of national security. And if there isn’t, then why not?"
Josh Earnest: "Well, the President certainly believes that there are some common-sense steps that we can take that would ensure that we continue to protect the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens while also making it harder for those who shouldn’t get guns to get them.
"The President has pushed a variety of legislative proposals to try to effectuate those changes. The President has also put in place a large number -- I think two dozen or so -- executive actions to try to take those steps. And those executive actions have been important and successful. But there is more work that can be done, again, to implement common-sense measures that would both protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans while making it harder for those individuals who shouldn’t have firearms from getting them."
Translation: No, and if I had to suss out a reason, I'd guess it is a mix of political futility and a desire not to encourage the premise by stoking it. If the White House went around pointing out the threat that our gun laws pose, without being able to change them, that could actually encourage an attack.
But make no mistake, an attack like this will happen. Terrorists have been calling for it for years, and citing this particular loophole in the process. Just last year, an ISIS sympathizer was arrested trying to buy guns for just such an attack. Under our current laws, you could fund a devastating attack for what it costs to make a student film. We can't just sit around and hope the terrorists haven't noticed this, because they have definitely noticed it.
Sooner or later, one or two of the hundreds of terrorist wannabes who can't make it to Syria are going to tool up at a gun show, then head for the mall. When they do, a lot of people are going to wish they'd spent less time arguing about what to call these guys, and more time keeping guns away from them.