In an attempt to reduce harm caused by terrorism-related gun violence on U.S. soil, President Barrack Obama wants to use the government’s “no fly” list to restrict firearm purchases. The proposal is an awful idea for several reasons; firstly, the U.S. “no fly” list contains about 50,000 people, The Intercept reported last August — many of which are innocent Americans with no ties at all to terrorism.
The U.S. “no fly” list overlaps with a larger database of suspected terrorists called Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, that’s managed by the National Counterterrorism Center. As of 2013, TIDE contained more than one million names, nearly half of which have no connection to terrorism, according to classified documents handed over to The Intercept via a source in the intelligence community.
Due to their inaccuracy, watch lists do not serve as an effective tool for determining who should lose their constitutional rights. Illustrating just how sketchy these lists can be, it was revealed Monday morning that 72 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees are listed on the U.S. government’s terrorist watch list, reports The Washington Free Beacon.
Government workers on U.S. terror watch list
Those 72 DHS workers are still employed with the agency as of last August, said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D., Mass.) during a congressional investigation, which resulted in the resignation of the former DHS director.
Aside from the fact that watch lists are poorly managed, using them to revoke Americans’ constitutional rights is against everything our country stands for. The following snippet from The Daily Beast explains perfectly the fallacies in Obama’s proposal:
I’m seeing a lot of friends and others who generally hang out near me on the left of the political spectrum express outrage at a recent vote in Congress to reject fixing what at first glance seems like a terrible loophole: People on the terrorist watch list can still buy guns. Even President Barack Obama, who called Sunday night for a law that would prevent people on a subset of the terror watch list from purchasing a firearm, is among this crowd.
Their outrage stems from the logical reaction, “If there are people we think are bent on doing us harm, why are we giving them easy access to the tools to do it?”
The concern is reasonable. The proposed remedy—to deny people on the watch list the ability to buy guns—is not, however. Not because it has anything to do with guns, but because it has to do with lists.
As Americans we understand well how important due process is. No one, for instance, should be thrown in jail just on the say-so of some government official who declares they deserve it. Such is the behavior of tyrants, the Founding Fathers understood, and so we enshrined in our Constitution the right to counsel, the right against being compelled to testify against oneself, the right to trial by jury, etc.
All of these rights are checks to ensure the government can’t simply pluck innocent people out of their lives and strip them of their life, liberty, or property. Only after fairly testing the charges against them can the government punish people with such deprivation.
Using lists to yank citizens’ rights is unconstitutional
But none of these hurdles must be overcome for the government to put someone on a list, especially not a list like this, which is a watch list. It is a list of people that for whatever reason (a reason that no one outside the government knows) the government has decided deserve closer scrutiny of their actions.
Commenting on Obama’s proposal to remove gun rights from individuals on the “no fly” list, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said:
These are everyday Americans that have nothing to do with terrorism, they wind up on the no-fly list, there’s no due process or any way to get your name removed from it in a timely fashion, and now they’re having their Second Amendment rights being impeded upon.
If these were perfect lists, that’d be one thing, but there are over 700,000 Americans on some watch list or another that would all be captured under this amendment that Democrats offered. That’s the problem. There aren’t 700,000 terrorists operating in America openly on watch lists.