After a nearly 15-hour filibuster, the Senate has agreed to vote on two Democratic amendments relating to expanding background checks and keeping those on terror watch lists from buying firearms. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) led the charge, stalling a spending bill for the Department of Justice yesterday afternoon to make the point that the Senate has to do something. This will not stop future mass shootings or terrorist attacks, as the Orlando killer had no criminal history making more background checks a useless exercise, and he wasn’t on any terror watch list. He was placed on one of them when the FBI was looking into inflammatory remarks he made about al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. He was later removed from them.
On its face, barring people on terrorist watch lists, including the no fly, might make sense. Yet, again, these are secretive lists. They lack due process of law. And because of that, it’s hard to know how you got on the list and equally hard to fight to get your name removed from it. I know, someone who is legitimately planning acts of terrorism shouldn’t know he’s on a government watch list, but neither should the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes, or children. Yes, babies have been flagged on the no-fly list, which is one of many of these databases maintained by the FBI.
It’s a bad, bad idea to start stripping Americans’ rights based on mere suspicion—and people on these various terrorist watch lists have not been convicted of such heinous charges either. It’s a gross overreach and abuse of government power. Republicans pushed for their expanded use post-9/11. Now, they’re learning how it can be abused. Even pro-gun control liberals, like Mark Joseph Stern at Slate, noted that this isn’t a smart policy being spearheaded by the anti-gun Left:
What Congress, or the next president, should not do, however, is forbid individuals on the FBI’s terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms. The problem here is largely one of precedent: The Supreme Court has said private gun ownership is protected by the Second Amendment of the Constitution. It has also ruled that the right to bear arms is a “fundamental right” under the 14th Amendment as a component of the “liberty” protected by the due process clause
If the government can revoke your right to access firearms simply because it has decided to place you on a secret, notoriously inaccurate list, it could presumably restrict your other rights in a similar manner. You could be forbidden from advocating for causes you believe in, or associating with like-minded activists; your right against intrusive, unreasonable searches could be suspended. And you would have no recourse: The government could simply declare that, as a name on a covert list, you are owed no due process at all.
President Barack Obama does not appear to be discomfited by this possibility. Indeed, he seems to have decided that tethering gun control to the watch list is a wise use of his remaining political capital. Last week, before the Pulse massacre, he made another appeal to ban gun sales to those on the watch list, which has gained viral traction in the wake of Sunday’s attack. “I got people who we know have been on ISIL websites, living here in the United States, U.S. citizens, and we’re allowed to put them on the no-fly list when it comes to airlines, but because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun,” the president said. “This is somebody who is a known ISIL sympathizer. And if he wants to walk in to a gun store or a gun show right now and buy as much—as many weapons and ammo as he can, nothing’s prohibiting him from doing that, even though the FBI knows who that person is.”
This rhetoric may sound persuasive. But the deeper problem is that virtually anyone who wants to commit a mass shooting can easily obtain a gun designed for the battlefield. In the gun safety debate, the terror watch list is largely a distraction.
Even the LA Times editorial board, another pro-gun control outlet, said that those on no-fly lists should be able to buy firearms because to curb civil rights based on suspicion is (again) troublesome. Most importantly, reiterating the point above, the Orlando killer, Omar Mateen, wasn’t even on any terror watch list at the time of his attack. Moreover, does anyone really think a list is going to stop a terrorist from obtaining firearms or any other weapon intended to inflict harm on innocent people? This isn’t a gun control issue. The fact that liberals think that a terror watch list will prevent future attacks is absurd.