During last night's presidential debate at Hofstra University, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump agreed on one thing: People on terror watch lists shouldn't be able to buy firearms in America.
That sounds great. Nobody is advocating terrorists should have the right to purchase a firearm, but using the terror watch list as gun control is not only inefficient, it's unconstitutional.
The ACLU has repeatedly warned against using the terror watch and no fly lists as a way to regulate firearms. From a letter sent to Congress by the organization earlier this year:
Our nation’s watchlisting system is error-prone and unreliable because it uses vague and overbroad criteria and secret evidence to place individuals on blacklists without a meaningful process to correct government error and clear their names.
The government contends that it can place Americans on the No Fly List who have never been charged let alone convicted of a crime, on the basis of prediction that they nevertheless pose a threat (which is undefined) of conduct that the government concedes “may or may not occur.” Criteria like these guarantee a high risk of error and it is imperative that the watchlisting system include due process safeguards—which it does not. In the context of the No Fly List, for example, the government refuses to provide even Americans who know they are on the List with the full reasons for the placement, the basis for those reasons, and a hearing before a neutral decision-maker.
The National Rifle Association is in agreement with the ACLU on this issue.
"The NRA believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period. Anyone on a terror watch list who tries to buy a gun should be thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the sale delayed while the investigation is ongoing," NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox said in June. "If an investigation uncovers evidence of terrorist activity or involvement, the government should be allowed to immediately go to court, block the sale, and arrest the terrorist. At the same time, due process protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watch list to be removed. That has been the position of Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) and a majority of the U.S. Senate. Sadly, President Obama and his allies would prefer to play politics with this issue."
The terror watch lists and terror no fly lists are made up of nearly a million names with many belonging to Americans who have absolutely zero ties to terrorism. Your name could easily be on it.
Earlier this week, The Intercept published a 166-page document outlining the government’s guidelines for placing people on an expansive network of terror watch lists, including the no-fly list. In their report, Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux highlighted the extremely vague and loosely defined criteria developed by 19 federal agencies, supposedly to fight terrorism.
Using these criteria, government officials have secretly characterized an unknown number of individuals as threats or potential threats to national security. In 2013 alone, 468,749 watch-list nominations were submitted to the National Counterterrorism Center. It rejected only 1 percent of the recommendations.
While some individuals are surely placed on these watch lists for valid reasons, the murky language of the guidelines suggests that innocent people can get caught up in this web, too, and be subjected to the same possible restrictions on travel and other forms of monitoring.
Those who get put on the list, without an explanation from the government, have to spend millions of dollars and years of their life getting off. Take for example Stanford Professor Rahinah Ibrahim, who was on the list for eight years before finally forcing the government to remove her.
In 2005, Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian architecture professor and doctoral candidate at Stanford University, went to San Francisco International Airport where she was told that she couldn't board an airplane.
Her name was on a government no-fly list of suspected terrorists.
Eight years of court battles later, a federal judge agreed that Ibrahim didn't belong on the list.
The FBI ultimately acknowledged that she ended up on there because an agent investigating her had checked the wrong box on a form, said her attorney, Elizabeth Pipkin.
Chillingly, the U.S. Justice Department never disclosed why Ibrahim was being investigated in the first place.
Ibrahim became the first and only person to be removed from the no-fly list by the courts, but Pipkin said it took “eight years and $4 million of pro bono attorney work to accomplish that feat."
I'll leave you with what I've written before when President Obama has advocated for using the terror watch and no fly lists for gun control.
The terrorism watch list has been an inefficient, often times lazy way for the feds to harvest names and it has expanded rapidly under Obama with little results to show for it. What we really should be doing is profiling and asking a series of detailed questions to those traveling to the United States from terrorism hot spots around the world. Why were you in Syria? Why did you pass through Greece? What were your purposes in those countries? Who did you meet with? Did you receive any gifts? Who did you travel with? Why did you travel alone on the way there but are traveling with a partner on your way back? Etc.
Do we want terrorists buying guns legally at gun stores in America? No. Do we want the rights of Americans with zero connection to terrorist groups, who have been placed on the no fly list, to be stripped of their constitutional rights? Hell no.
If Congress or President Obama want to truly prevent actual terrorists from legally obtaining firearms, they're going to have to reform the way we classify and put people on the ever expanding no-fly "terrorism" watch list. in the meantime, the administration should accept that gun control for terrorists is a laughable concept. In France, where 130 people were slaughtered by ISIS three weeks ago, AK-47s (along with grenades and suicide vests) are completely banned from purchase.
The bottom line is this: Terrorists who want to do harm will find ways, even in countries with extreme gun control, to get the guns they want to carry out attacks. In America, innocent people want the ability to arm themselves against terrorists who plan to do so and the administration is trying to make it harder for them to engage this capability.