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Abusing Government Watch Lists: How Freedom Dies

Abusing Government Watch Lists: How Freedom Dies

By now, you’ve heard and read about the schemes proposed by everyone from President Barack Obama to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would ban firearms sales to anyone on the so-called “Terror Watch List.” 

And as you probably already know, Republican leaders—and some, but not enough, Democrats—oppose this reckless and dangerous policy, because it violates:

  • the principle of due process under the law, a foundation of American jurisprudence;
  • the notion of “innocent until proven guilty;”
  • the right to hear any charges and confront any witnesses against you;
  • the right to an open trial by a jury of your peers; and
  • the very rule of law upon which this nation was founded.

What you may not know is just how profoundly this scheme endangers not just your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, but also the fundamental premise of freedom that’s woven through every fiber in the fabric of the Bill of Rights. 

Because if government can deny your Second Amendment rights on nothing more than rumors, suspicions, anonymous accusers and unspecified charges—it can deny every right we enjoy as Americans.

During a Dec. 10 hearing before Congress, U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., questioned Kelli Ann Burriesci, deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, on this very issue. 

“What process is afforded a U.S. citizen before they go on that [terror watch] list?” Gowdy asked, to which Burriesci answered, “I’m sorry, um, there’s not a process afforded the citizen prior to getting on the list ...” How ‘bout we don’t let people join the church until they can petition government to get off the list?

Gowdy continued, “[D]ue process ... is a phrase we find in the Constitution, that you cannot deprive people of certain things without due process. So I understand Mr. Gude’s idea, which is, wait until your right has been taken from you and then you can petition the government to get it back ... My question is, can you name another constitutional right that we have that is chilled until you find out it’s chilled, and then you have to petition government to get it back? Is that true with the First Amendment?” 

Making his point even clearer, Gowdy continued, noting that while some politicians are “fine with doing it with the Second Amendment, my question is: How about the First? How about we not let them set up a website or a Google account? How about we not let ‘em join the church until they can petition government to get off the list? ... How about the Sixth Amendment? How ‘bout you can’t get a lawyer until you petition the government to get off the list? Or my favorite, how about the Eighth Amendment? We’re gonna subject you to cruel and unusual punishment until you petition the government to get off the list. Is there another constitutional right that we treat the same way for American citizens that we do the Second Amendment? Can you think of one?” 

The DHS official’s only reply was, “I don’t have an answer for you, sir.” 

Indeed, the irony of the examples Rep. Gowdy cited is that when fundamental freedoms are denied, there can be no way to get them back. You need freedom to defend freedom. It’s like that old catch-22 that awaits young job seekers: You need experience to get a job ... but you can’t get experience until you get a job. 

If the government denies your right to petition government for a redress of grievances, then how can you petition government to reclaim your First Amendment rights?

If government refuses to tell you the accusations leveled against you, then how can you possibly clear your name? 

And when government refuses to allow you to appeal through an open trial by a jury of your peers ... then what’s the difference between that and outright tyranny

Think about it: In introducing her legislation to bar anyone on the government’s terror watch list (more formally known as the “Terrorist Screening Database” or “TSDB”) from purchasing a firearm, Sen. Feinstein called passage of the bill “a no-brainer.” 

But what’s truly a “no-brainer” would be passing legislation that can’t do any good, but that does definite harm. As USA Today pointed out, about 95 percent of the people on the government’s TSDB are foreign nationals, which means they can’t legally buy firearms in the U.S. anyway. Which is one reason USA Today concluded, “Using a secret and sloppy list to take away a constitutional right is a bad idea.” “Should people on the no-fly list be able to buy guns? Yes.” — Los Angeles Times editorial board

After Congress rightly rejected Feinstein’s outrageous proposal, President Obama pouted and lectured and scolded Americans over the issue in his weekly address.

“Right now, people on the no-fly list can walk into a store and buy a gun. That is insane. If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous, by definition, to buy a gun,” Obama said, deliberately confusing the TSDB—which was what Feinstein’s gun prohibition applied to—with the much-smaller “no-fly list,” which is a subset of the TSDB, but just as prone to errors and bad information. The late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy was repeatedly reminded of that when he was blocked from boarding airliners, reportedly because there was a “T. Kennedy” on the No-Fly List. 

The Los Angeles Times—which typically advocates every gun ban you could imagine—opposed its own senator’s scheme. In an editorial headlined, “Should people on the no-fly list be able to buy guns? Yes.” the L.A. Times editorial board concluded, “Ending gun violence is critically important, but so is protecting basic civil liberties. Although we agree to the ends here, we object to the means.” 

Indeed, even the left-leaning journal POLITICO called the scheme “Kafka-esque.” It’s a fitting description. 

When it comes to the Second Amendment, President Obama and Sen. Feinstein don’t care about protecting anyone’s rights. And far too many Democrats are willing to go along with it. They’ll puff themselves up with righteous indignation and proclaim their dedication to “civil rights” when it comes to gay marriage, or illegal-alien voting rights, or other such issues. 

But when it comes to the Second Amendment—which actually is an enumerated right—too many Democrats are so fervent to see it eliminated that they’re willing to cut it out of the Bill of Rights with a fire axe and flamethrower, and the rest of our rights be damned

That should frighten every American—regardless of political party or anything else—because as they say, what goes around, comes around: Once one right can be denied by executive fiat, any of our rights can be revoked at will and at whim. Once that happens, no freedom is safe, and not one of us is exempt. We’re all endangered, and all our freedoms are diminished.