Sessions Didn’t Disrespect Hawaii, He Raised An Important Question

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

John Lott President, Crime Prevention Research Center
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The media is apoplectic that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has criticized the federal judge in Hawaii who suspended President Donald Trump’s revised executive order on visas and refugees.  Sessions offending statement? “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the U.S. from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,” Sessions said on Tuesday.

While the media wants to argue that Sessions was disrespecting the state of Hawaii, he was actually just raising a basic question. How can one federal judge control the immigration policy of the entire country?

The threat of terrorism is real. With yet another ISIS attack in Paris, it is hard to argue with President Trump’s warning that we need to “keep these foreign terrorists from entering our country in the first place.”

But a federal judge in Hawaii, Derrick Watson, struck down the administration’s temporary suspension of entry from six countries. Watson, a district court judge appointed by President Barack Obama, declared that Trump’s executive order was “motivated by anti-Muslim animus.”

As evidence, Judge Watson cites Trump’s verbal statement while signing the first travel ban: “I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States.” Trump also later remakred, “If the ban were announced with a one-week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week.”

Can’t Watson differentiate between a Muslim ban and trying to keep out “radical Islamic terrorists?” Doesn’t it make sense that terrorists would try to enter the United States before the new rules went into effect?

The judge’s attempt to read religious intolerance into reasonable statements involves more politics than law.

These aren’t irrational fears.

Muslims have committed 39 of the worst 50 mass public shootings around the world from 1970 to January 2017. This is using the traditional FBI definition, which limits us to public shootings that were not related to another crime and that resulted in four or more fatalities. Number 16 on that list took place last June in Orlando. That shooting, the worst in U.S. history, claimed 50 lives and injured 53 people.

Many people mistakenly believe that the United States is somehow unique in mass public shootings. In fact, the rest of the world is much more dangerous: 24 of the worst 25, and 45 of the worst 50 shootings occurred abroad.

The recent ban on electronic devices in travel from a dozen Middle Eastern and African countries is motivated by threats from Islamic militant groups such as al-Shabaab. In April 2015, this group shot to death 147 people at a university in Kenya. In September 2013, militants fatally shot 63 and wounded 175 at a mall in Nairobi.

A large number of devastating Muslim attacks have not been counted as mass public shootings because they relate to struggles over sovereignty. For instance, the 2004 Beslan school massacre was carried out by Muslims in the name of Chechen independence from Russia. It claimed 385 lives and injured 783.

Of course, guns are not the only tools of mass killing. A man in Nice, France killed 84 people and injured more than 200 with a truck and a gun. An SUV was used in last week’s attack in London that left three dead and wounded dozens more.

Bombs are much more commonly used in terror attacks outside of the United States  The most notable exception is the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which claimed 168 lives. In 1927, a dynamite attack left 45 dead and 58 injured at a school in Michigan. And in 2013, the Boston Marathon bombings killed three people.

Countries such as Russia experience far more bomb fatalities. From 2009 to July 2014, Russia experienced 0.24 annual deaths per million from bombings that caused at least four fatalities. Muslims committed all of these attacks. That is 2.7 times higher than the death rate from US mass public shootings over the same years.

Compared to the world at large, the United States is a safe haven. It makes perfect sense to carefully vet people who want to come to the US.

John Lott is the present of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author most recently of “The War on Guns” (Regnery, 2016).