Last week, U.S. Army reservist Raja’ee Fatihah visited the the Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gun Range in Oktaha, OK.
This range recently made news for its “No Muslims” sign. Fatihah, a Muslim and member of Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), wanted to test this policy.
At first, Fatihah said he was treated respectfully, as a regular customer. Upon revealing his religion, however, he claims he was treated with suspicion, and asked if he was there to murder others at the range.
After his experience at the range, Fatihah filed suit in the US District Court in Muskogee, alleging anti-Islamic discrimination.
The business tells a different story. According to Robert Muise, a lawyer from the American Freedom Law Center who is representing the range, Fatihah was denied service because he was a danger. In this version of events, Fatihah brought a loaded AK-47 to the range on a rainy day which most wouldn’t shoot in. The owners “feared for their safety,” he said, and Fatihah acted belligerent.
Muise applauded the owners of the range for “resisting political correctness and doing what was right under the circumstances.” He further argues that the policy is within the bounds of free speech.
It is unclear which version of the story is correct until further investigation is conducted. But the details of the specific event itself are inconsequential. What matters is the religious discrimination present in these circumstances.
One of the owners, Chad Neal, hinted at this discrimination in his explanation of the store policy. Neal said the sign was posted in response to the July 16 attacks at two military institutions in Chattanooga, TN.
The owners say they do not want to train any jihadists who could go on to commit other attacks. As a US Army veteran, Neal said he has “seen what Muslims and jihadis do to people. It’s just not going to happen in my store.”
This policy is not unique to the Oktaha store; Neal said his range was “behind” similar ranges in other states.
Some of these ranges have also been sued. CAIR sued a Florida firearms retailer in 2015 for violating the federal public accommodations law. This suit was dismissed, as the sign was considered free speech and the activists couldn’t prove they’d been harmed.
But these policies are extremely harmful. Such policies treat all Muslims as potential terrorists, deeming them guilty for believing what they do.
This ideology goes against the basic belief of “innocent before proven guilty.” By painting all Muslims as potential jihadists, these policies further divide the country. Divisions make it easier for anger to develop, and issues to arise.
Just like being denied service for the color of your skin, being denied service for your religious beliefs makes one feel like a second-class citizen.
Instead of treating all Muslims as time-bombs, these ranges, and all Americans, should perhaps work on educating themselves about Islam and befriending devout believers, so they can determine how threatening the religion really is. Some of these gun range owners, like Neal, claim to understand Islam, and thus recognize it as a credible threat.
While the definition of terrorism is not set in stone, data show that most domestic terrorist attacks are not committed by Muslims. While the image of Muslim jihadists has been the most frightening threat to these range owners, the data doesn’t support them.
The FBI’s survey of terrorism through 2002 to 2005 found that, with the exception of a white supremacist bombing a synagogue in Oklahoma City, all domestic terrorist incidents were committed by animal rights and environmental extremists.
Terrorism preventions, in which a potential attack was averted, during this period were mostly from right-wing extremism, which was involved with white supremacy, anti-abortion movements, and others.
Internationally, there were incidents by regional jihadist groups in primarily Muslim countries during this period that did claim American casualties.
Princeton University’s Loon Watch complied FBI data from 1980 to 2005, and found that Islamic extremists were responsible for 6 percent of terrorist attacks.
A review of attacks in European Union countries finds similar data. In 2013, there were 152 terrorist attacks in the European Union. Only two of them were religiously motivated, while 84 were related to ethno-nationalist or separatist beliefs.
If these gun range owners are worried about training the next jihadist, data suggest their worries are misplaced. Most terrorism, at least on domestic soil, isn’t committed by Muslims.
Data suggests mass murderers are more of a threat to Americans than a Muslim-American is to them. If range owners want to prevent American deaths, perhaps they should consider how to not train the next mass shooter.
One might try to argue that Muslim extremist attacks result in more casualties than in other threats. But according to a 2013 report by Charles Kurzman, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, Muslim-American terrorists were responsible for 37 murders out of more than 190,000 in the US since 9/11.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Research Service estimates that since 9/11, 281 people have died in 38 mass public shootings, categorized as the murder of four or more people, not including the shooter, in one instance.
The data also shows that the people who commit most mass murders are of a totally different demographic than most Muslim-Americans.
Of 62 cases from 1982-2012, forty-four killers were white males, with an average age of 35 years, many of whom had mental health problems. That’s a totally different profile than the Muslim extremist painted by these policies.
So should all white males of a certain age not be allowed to train at shooting ranges?
Now, most people would feel uncomfortable banning all people matching this profile from using ranges. So why is banning Muslim-Americans okay?
While religious terrorism often receives the most media coverage, data shows that it is not the most common, or even the most deadly threat facing Americans.
How these range owners determine if someone is Muslim is also up for scrutiny. This determination is where issues of racism come into play. Because how can you tell who is a Muslim?
Unless they wear clothing associated with Islam, like a headscarf, one must rely on skin color and facial features, which will play into stereotypes of what ethnicities are Muslim, and what they look like—usually brown-skinned.
According to Neal, his time in Iraq has given him the ability to “know what Muslims look like and how they act and talk.” None of his clients before the ban were Muslim, Neal said in a recent interview, so the issue hasn’t come up. But if these ranges want to continue their policies, in face of the data that suggests they’re unnecessary, they need to come up with a surefire way of telling people’s religion without relying on skin color.
Not all gun ranges have been so lucky. The Gun Cave Indoor Shooting Range in Arkansas has faced allegations of discrimination by an East Asian father and son who have elected to remain anonymous.
The pair claim that the owner asked if they were Muslim. They are Hindus, but one of the pair says they were questioned because of their skin color. The owner has a different story. She claims the father and son seemed to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and as this posed a safety hazard, she asked them to leave, mentioning nothing of Muslims or Islam.
While it’s unclear whose story is true, the threat of denying service because of appearance, especially skin color, remains. Just because someone looks to be a stereotypic Muslim, they might not necessarily be Muslim, just as it is with any other religion.
While the Florida firearms retailer with a “no-Muslim” policy had its suit dismissed, the legality of these kinds of policies is still unclear. If the ranges qualify as “private clubs,” they may not be covered by Title II of the US Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination based on religion, according to Michael McConnell, director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center. State’s laws on discrimination in public places vary, which further complicates the problem.
This new suit may provide answers. No matter which way this case goes, however, Americans should work to stop these policies, as they are harmful.