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Hey Liberals - Shut Up About the Terrorist Watch List & Gun Sales

Updated on June 16, 2016

I didn't care too much about gun safety/control before Sandy Hook. But the thought of those precious little… It just hurt. Charleston hurt. Orlando. They just keep coming. Larger numbers. More frequent. More horrific. More and more pain. And yet, our elected officials sit on their hands. Matter of fact, that’s too generous: states have recently enacted laws allowing firearms in state parks, churches, schools, bars…

It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse.

Wayne LaPierre
Wayne LaPierre

And there’s no silver bullet to such a difficult problem. For starters, are the 2ndAmendment, the Supreme Court, Heller, money in politics, and the NRA. So there are limitations. But there are also solutions: We should require background checks for all firearm sales. We should allow the CDC to research the health impact of firearms. We should have gun buy-back programs. We should tax ammunition at a higher rate. We should ban military-style assault weapons.

Those particular weapons (modeled after the M-16 we used in Vietnam; and by the way, our military is bright enough to keep them locked away when not in use) are designed for most efficiently murdering humans. They are marketed as such. They are the best selling firearm in the country. There are literally millions of them in the United States. And every time there is a horrific event involving firearms, gun fetishists come out in droves to buy even more. (Along with anytime a Democrat happens to be in the White House.)

Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy

The seemingly-lowest hanging of fruit, as trotted out by the Democratic Party, is banning the sale of firearms to people on the no-fly list. If you can’t get on an airplane, you shouldn’t be able to buy a military-style assault weapon. Sounds simple and to the point. Seems like the exclamation point to an argument.

Unfortunately – and as usual – talking points are stupid; and Democrats are idiots. While the talking point sounds nice, and can be used as a cudgel to beat Republicans into political submission, in practice it is little more than an empty platitude. Either ensure that these lists are just and are consistent with our stated ideals, or shut up and stop using them as a political football. This is a serious issue. It deserves to be treated it as such.This whole no-fly list thing - while good intentioned - only feeds into the concerns of the paranoid. It feeds into the narrative of punishing the innocent for the actions of the guilty. The idea behind it is a good one with which I fully agree, but its application is deeply problematic. It’s bloated and opaque. It’s a combination of bureaucracy, secrecy, and overreach.

An assault weapons ban means that they cannot be legally sold in the United States. We had such a ban, which expired when Bush 43 (Dubya) was president. If we really want to whittle the number down, we would need to eliminate the ban on suing gun manufacturers for damages. We would need to implement harsh punishment for trafficking. We should require registration and insurance for personal ownership. Ideally they would be kept at, say, a range where they could be checked out by the owner for target practice. But that’s not the world we live in.

Plus, assault weapons are only used in a small number of shootings. The most horrific, to be sure, but a small percentage of the overall number. Most are via handgun. Plus, a third of firearm-related deaths in the US are suicides. So again, the problems are myriad and there is no panacea.

As is often the case, there is a lot of term-swapping going on. The no-fly list is one thing. It has grown over ten times since Obama has been in office, to at least 47,000. Then there is the National Counterterrorism Center’s Terrorist Screening Database, aka the terrorist watch list – and which the AP reported to havegrown by at least 1.5m during Obama’s first five years in office.

I don’t pretend to know how many terrorists, or even terrorist sympathizers, there are with American passports/citizenship. But forty-seven thousand, let alone one-point-five million, are numbers which suggest that these terms and programs are being loosely applied and misused.

Dead people can be placed on the list. “Categories” of people can be placed on the list. There needn’t be “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to be placed one on the list. You needn’t be a terrorist, or even a suspected terrorist - a person could be suspected of associating with a suspected associate of a suspected terrorist sympathizer (a family member of someone on your contact list, perhaps). Then we have terrorism itself, defined as something as little as the “degrading” of property for the purpose of causing government action (anti-war vandalism, perhaps spray-painting a Peace sign). Worst of all, this creates a second class of semi-citizens who maintain only some of their Constitutional rights as Americans.


Until a federal court ruling in 2014, you wouldn't even know if you were placed on such a list. If you are informed as such, the government still refuses to disclose why that is, or how to go about being removed. Yet another in a long line of civil liberties disasters.

Though technically all of this is supposedly unclassified, both the Bush and Obama administrations have been terribly (and consistently) secretive on the matter. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder said that disclosing information about how these lists would pose “significant harm” to US national security.

So: using these secretive and oft-abused lists to restrict the sale of firearms, while perhaps a nice thought, simply does not make sense - and may be counter-productive in the long-term battle of ideas.


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