Anti-gun activists think they’ve got a winning issue on their hands with legislation that would ban people on the government watch list from purchasing firearms. They can point to polls showing broad support for the proposal, and the argument, “If you can’t get on a plane, why should you be able to buy a gun?” seems to make sense to a lot of folks. What’s the problem with this argument?
Actually, there are a couple of problems. Let’s start with the fact that the rhetoric doesn’t match reality when it comes to the so-called “No Fly, No Buy” legislation. That’s because, while politicians like President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein use the phrase “no fly list” when talking about this bill, the actual legislative language uses the much larger terror watch list as its disqualifying feature. There are more than 1 million people on that watch list, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the vast majority of them can actually board an airplane because they’re not on the much smaller No Fly List. They won’t, however, be able to legally purchase a firearm under the bill being pushed in Congress. Shouldn’t the politicians who want to take away rights without due process acknowledge what secret government list will actually be used?
That brings us to another problem: In America, you can’t strip someone of their constitutional rights without due process. U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., made this point in a highly effective way while questioning DHS Deputy Assistant Secretary Kelli Ann Burriesci last week.
What other rights should these folks on the list lose, he wondered. Should they lose their First Amendment rights, or their Eighth Amendment rights? Should they still be entitled to legal counsel, and a jury trial? After all, they’re on a watch list. The hapless DHS official was unable to come up with a good answer.
Actually, the good answer is: “We don’t deprive people of their civil liberties without just cause and due process, Congressman. Not here in the United States. Not the First Amendment, the Second Amendment or any of the rest.” But we didn’t get that answer. Instead, we got a deer-in-the-headlights look, and “I don’t have an answer for you, sir.”
This list is called a watch list for a reason. The people on it have not been formally accused of a crime. They’ve not been arrested or indicted. The vast majority of them never will be. We have no idea how many people are on the watch list mistakenly, but we do know it can take more than a decade to get off the list, even if the FBI agent who put you there simply checked a wrong box.Shouldn’t the politicians who want to take away rights without due process acknowledge what secret government list will actually be used?
At the same time, people on the watch list are, well, being watched. When one of them attempts to purchase a firearm at a licensed gun seller, the FBI is notified. The FBI can let the sale proceed, place a hold on the sale, or deny the sale if there are prohibiting factors. What they can’t do is arbitrarily deny people on the list a firearm, just like they can’t prohibit them from attending a place of worship or using social media. It’s a watch list, after all, not a Deprivation of Rights Without Due Process list.
Apparently schools are no longer teaching Benjamin Franklin’s admonition that those who would give up essential liberty in order to obtain temporary security deserve neither. Now we’re watching anti-gun activists and their political allies prey on American fears of a terror attack in order to undermine our constitutionally protected rights. They’re promising security while conveniently ignoring that the attackers in San Bernardino weren’t on any watch lists, and that the list of security scandals keeps growing longer by the week.
Instead of serious reform in the name of national security, the anti-gun crowd offers so-called “common sense” gun reform in the desperate hope they can score some sort of political victory. It would simply be sad if it wasn’t so dangerous to both our collective security and our shared civil liberties.