Monday, June 27, 2016

Democrats Doing a Sit-In for Terrorist Watch Lists Makes Little Sense

After the mass shooting in Orlando, many in this country grieved for those lost in the largest murder on American soil since 9-11. I was unsurprised that the Democrats politicized the tragedy as another attempt to pass gun control reforms. In response, Democratic Senators attempted to pass four bills in response to the attack: two regarding background checks and two regarding terror watch lists. However, the bills did not pass. Democratic Senators responded in the atypical fashion of staging a sit-in. I'm not going to address the background check aspect because I covered that topic recently, so I will discuss the terror watch list bills.

There were two bills proposed. The Republican version was to ban anyone who is on the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database from buying a gun. The Republican bill's caveat was that the individual had to wait 72 hours to give federal officials enough time to prove to a federal judge that said individual actually has terroristic ties. If not, the individual can buy a gun. The Democratic version was more unforgiving. If you end up on the Terrorist Screening Database and are denied a gun purchase, you would have to contest it in court. What's even scarier is that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wanted to extend the dragnet beyond even the Terrorist Watch List.

The idea of using the Terrorist Screening Database seems like a no-brainer: "Let's use a database from multiple national security agencies to stop the terrorists from buying guns and reeking havoc on our country." I'm going to gloss over the irony that the Orlando shooter was on the Database twice, but the FBI didn't find anything. I'm also going to ignore the irony how Democrats are doing a sit-in, a non-violent form of protest common during the Civil Rights Era, while staging a political circus that will end up eroding civil rights.

It's easier to end up on the Terrorist Screening Database than you would imagine. Have you traveled abroad? Have you ever criticized the government on social media? Have you expressed views against the War on Drugs or War on Terror? These criteria can get you on the Terrorist Watch List. All the government needs is an elusively defined "reasonable suspicion" and a "sufficient level of identifying information," but these concepts are vague enough to get you on the list.  What's worse is that the government doesn't need evidence to put you on the List, nor does the government allow you to confront your accuser because it is not required to inform you that you are on the List. As the Intercept shows, neither "concrete facts" nor "irrefutable evidence" are required.

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee due process, which would not happen with such a bill. As a matter of fact, due process would get in the way of such a bill. Top that off with violating the Second Amendment, and such a bill would violate no less than three Amendments in the Constitution. Those who are convicted of terroristic acts are already prohibited from buying a gun. If we want to prevent terrorists from getting guns, all the Attorney General has to do is indict the individual. The problem with that is that there is often not enough, which leads to my point of "Oh, wait! It gets better": 40 percent of the million-plus people on the Terrorist Screening Database don't even have terrorist affiliations of any kind (see below). The ACLU released a report showing just how devastating the effects of such a policy affect those falsely on the Terrorist Screening Database.

Finally, let us remind ourselves that if a terrorist really wants to get their hands on firearms, they will find a way to do so, as the New York Times points out. If the terrorist is tipped off because he can't buy a gun legally because of this watch list policy, the terrorist will most probably find more illicit ways to do so, all of which undermines security. In short, if this ever became law, the government could restrict your Second Amendment rights simply because you're on a vaguely defined, "secret, notoriously inaccurate list." Focusing on a terrorist watch list is, at best, a distraction. Much like I brought up with high-capacity magazine bans last week, if we want to talk about passing "common sense gun reform," let's focus on policy alternatives that can actually reduce gun violence without trampling constitutional rights instead of policy that wouldn't even make a dent in the gun homicide rate.

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