FBI abuses ‘no-fly list’ to violate Second Amendment rights
ANALYSIS / OPINION:
Remember all the Democrats’ calls to ban people on the FBI Watchlist from buying guns? Well, it turns out that these proposals would have affected nearly 2 million people. Since the Transportation Security Administration announced in January that it was considering adding the Jan. 6 Capitol protesters to the U.S. no-fly list, it’s no wonder the list has grown for so long.
When the list began to be compiled in 2003, no one would have imagined that so many names would be on it. Even in 2009, there were 400,000 names, just over a fifth of the current number. The fact that nearly 2 million people are on the terrorism watch list is a sad testament to the power we are giving to anonymous and irresponsible bureaucrats and should caution those who wish to use the list as a basis for far-reaching policies. span.
Being on the watch list doesn’t mean you are guilty of anything. You can be on the list just because the FBI wants to interview you about someone you might know. In 2014, around 40% of those on the watch list were subject to “reasonable suspicion” despite having “no affiliation with known terrorist groups”. People can be nominated for the list by various government agencies, and no oversight body exists to ensure these additions are justified.
Democrats want to strip the 2 million of these people of their Second Amendment rights. When he was president, Barack Obama called for a ban on the sale of weapons to those on the watch list. Senator Dianne Feinstein tried to add a ban as a budget amendment in 2016, but Republicans blocked it. The Republicans had their version of the ban, but they at least demanded a court hearing before the people were listed, which was unacceptable to the Democrats.
Whenever someone on the Terrorism Watchlist attempts to purchase a gun, the FBI is notified. The case comes under further scrutiny if it raises other flags. Despite these obstacles, between 2004 and 2015, 91% of those on the terrorism watch list were able to buy a gun when they tried to do so, and rightly so. None of the more than 2,000 people on the Watchlist who purchased firearms between February 2004 and December 2014 have been convicted of committing a crime with a firearm. So what kind of problem were the proposed gun bans supposed to address?
Terrorism watch and no-fly lists affect many people who are not even on them. The no-fly list prevented the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) from flying five times because someone with a similar name was on the list. Other prominent figures, such as Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA), have also encountered this problem. Apparently the two had names similar to those of Irish Republican Army activists. Would such a clunky system work more precisely if paired with a gun ban? The results of the NICS background check system are revealing.
Since the NICS background checks began in 1994, there have been 3.8 million initial refusals. In 2017 alone, there were 112,000 initial refusals for allegedly banned purchases. But, by June of the following year, the federal government had prosecuted only 12 people for trying to buy a gun. Almost all of the cases were dropped after further examination. The simple reason is that they were errors, in other words, they were not real cases. People tend to have similar names to others in their racial groups, and mistakes are mostly made by minorities through no fault of their own. The error rate for black men is three times their share of the population.
It is one thing to prevent a criminal from buying a gun. It is quite another to prevent a law-abiding citizen from buying a gun just because his name sounds like a criminal. Since no one needs to be tried in court before being placed on the terrorism watch list, the error rate for identifying potential terrorist threats would likely be much higher than the error rate for checks on terrorism. track record on gun purchases.
Even if the list was limited to true terrorists and used to legally prohibit them from purchasing guns, policy is unlikely to prevent them from obtaining guns. Just because illegal drugs are illegal doesn’t mean people can’t get them. It’s the same with guns. And, incidentally, drug gangs supply both drugs and guns. The terrorism watchlist would likely prevent law-abiding people from buying guns.
People should not lose their right to protect their families because an anonymous bureaucrat put his name on a list for some unknown reason. With the Democrats in full control of Washington for the first time since they started pushing this legislation forward, we had better keep an eye out for what they might be trying to squeeze into this year’s budget.
• John R. Lott is the President of the Crime Prevention Research Center. He worked at the US Department of Justice until January as a senior research and statistics adviser. Thomas Massie represents Kentucky’s Fourth Congressional District and is Co-Chair of the Second Amendment Caucus.