In the wake of the terrorist attack in California, President Obama has called on Congress to “do something” about our “gun problem” – namely to make it so that people on the no-fly list would be barred from buying guns, presumably by failing a NICS check. The President even posted this image on Twitter, complete with the most passive and useless hashtag ever, which I’ve used in the post title. “#dosomething”
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) December 7, 2015
The problems with denying people on the no-fly list access to firearms are plentiful. The first, and obvious objection to such a measure would be that it’s completely and totally meaningless. Do you really think that a potential terrorist is going to pop down to their local Scheel’s and buy an AR15 off the rack? Of course not. We’ve been shown time and time again that people bent on illegal actions do not obtain their guns from legal, traditional sources. They use straw purchases, they steal them, or they simply buy them off the black market.
If preventing people on the no-fly list from buying guns wouldn’t deter any sort of crime, what would it do? At the risk of getting a little tin-foil beanie, what it would absolutely due is allow the government to use a secret list to deny people a Constitutional right. I imagine that most people understand the nature of the no-fly list pretty well, but I’ll expound a bit on it just in case. The federal no-fly list is a list maintained primarily by the Department of Homeland Security that has the names of everyone the government believes is too much of a risk to be allowed to board a commercial airline. On this list are the sort of people you’d expect, such as terrorists and people under investigation for terrorism. How the no-fly works is it matches the names of travelers to names on the list, and if your name is a match, no ticket for you. It is extremely problematic, because if your name is similar to someone on the no-fly list, you can get delayed or even denied access. A simple google search will show a number of issues with the no-fly, including barring decorated veterans, US Congressmen, and journalists from travel.
Further, there are documented instances of persons being placed on the no-fly list as reprisals for their political beliefs/opinions. When you’re placed on the list, you’re not given any warning or notice (for obvious reasons) and the only way you’d find out would be if you tried to buy an airline ticket. Getting yourself removed from the no-fly list is a difficult, expensive, and time consuming process. The end result is that if the average citizen is placed on the list, their options for redress are limited.
While I understand the necessity of keeping certain badguys off airlines, I also really like those silly little civil liberties. I don’t like secret government lists that deny people their rights without due process. That’s ultimately what you’d get by denying people on the no-fly access to legally purchase guns. A secret government list that you don’t know if you’re on that is used to deny you a civil right. Can you imagine the reaction the press would have if someone suggested that people on the no fly list shouldn’t be allowed to own computers because they might use them to plan terrorist attacks? It’d be madness. But because the 2nd Amendment gets treated like a second-class right by a lot of people, there’s no outcry from the press.
There’s one more reason why we shouldn’t bar people on the NFL from buying guns. In the past when this has been brought up, it has been opposed by federal law enforcement. You see, the feds have stated in the past that they don’t want suspects on the list to be tipped off that they might be on the list or under surveillance. But if recently radicalized Jimmy Jihad rolls into his local gun store, and despite having bought guns before suddenly gets a bounce on his NICS check, he might think that something’s up. That’s a simplified version of law enforcement’s objection to barring people on the list from purchasing firearms. When Sen. Lautenberg last tried to get this passed, LE objected because it could “compromise existing investigations.”
However, as advocates for 2nd Amendment and individual rights, we have a problem when it comes to opposing measures like this. You see, to successfully fight something like this, you have to explain to people with facts and reason what the problems with the no-fly list are, why law enforcement has opposed this measure in the past, and why violating people’s civil rights without due process is wrong. That takes time. It doesn’t condense well to a 10 second soundbite. However “don’t let people on the no-fly list have guns because terrorism duh” is an extremely effective emotional appeal. It’s the sort of simple appeal to emotion that plays well on the Today show, and that your average American would likely agree with, because on the surface it seems like it makes sense. It’s only when you peel back the onion a bit do you understand why closing off the NFL to firearms purchases would actually open a much larger and more dangerous can of worms.
But in the internet age, no one has time for that sort of thing. If you can’t fit it in a tweet or a snapchat, no one will pay attention. That’s tough, because trying to argue against an emotional appeal to a complex issue with facts is quite a challenge. But we’ll just keep pushing this rock up the hill because it’s the right thing to do.