“No Fly, No Buy” is a violation of civil liberties

Josh Shumate

Last Wednesday morning, House Democrats, led by civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, took to floor and sat down in a symbolic attempt to prevent the leadership finishing up the legislative agenda and breaking for the Fourth of July. The “sit-in” lasted more than 24 hours and was done in hopes of making Speaker Paul Ryan allow a vote on legislation that would would prevent those on the no fly list and the terrorist watch list from buying guns.

At first glance, these proposals seem reasonable or even “common sense” – no one wants to see terrorists get their hands on guns – but the proposals would actually grant the FBI rather Orwellian powers and would have done nothing to stop the mass shooting in Orlando. Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, passed a background check and was on neither list.

To understand why this is a bad idea you have to understand how these watch lists work. They are secret lists kept by the FBI. It is fairly easy to get on them, and it is extremely hard to get off. The FBI simply has to label you a “suspected” terrorist in order to place you on the lists, and considering the FBI relies heavily on information from tips, these secret lists disproportionately affect Muslim Americans and others who seem “suspicious” to their neighbors and co-workers.

You might assume that the FBI would never place someone on the lists unless they had a good reason, but I remind you that Martin Luther King, Jr. and even John Lewis himself were tracked, surveilled and had their phones wiretapped by the FBI simply because they were important figures in the civil rights movement.

It is not hard to realize that in addition to having the potential to be rather discriminatory, this completely flips our justice system around; instead of being innocent until proven guilty, the FBI can use the lists to arbitrarily decide you are guilty and you must find a way to prove your innocence. Proving innocence can take years and costs thousands of dollars. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution recognizes a right to due process for every American, meaning the government can not deprive us of life, liberty, or property without a trial. However, there is no due process mechanism found in the FBI’s secret list protocol. Many times you do not even know you have made the lists until you try to board a plane. Even the left-leaning ACLU has cited the lack of due process as their reason for opposing the expansion of the lists to affect gun purchases. Even if you do not support gun rights, you should be appalled at the assault on our civil liberties.

Now the left has always claimed to be the side that protects our civil rights and civil liberties. They have always claimed to be the ones working to end systemic racism and aid marginalized ethnic and religious minorities. However, all of that apparently goes out the window when they want to push gun control legislation. The urge to peddle fear in order to score political points outweighs their commitment to any principles.

This proposal strips Americans of a Constitutional right, ignores the advice of nearly all civil liberties advocates, and disproportionately affects Muslim Americans. If this proposal were to pass, there is little doubt that innocent and peaceful Muslims would lose their gun rights simply because their neighbors or coworkers were frightened after seeing a hijab or a prayer mat and decided to call the FBI, and they would have virtually no recourse. We know this will happen because the list already works that way. Americans – primarily Muslim Americans – are already stripped of the freedom to travel without due process and have to go through an unending fight to get off the list.

The very existence of these lists already runs afoul to the Constitution and has allowed for discrimination, but instead of working to put an end to them, Democrats want to expand them. It is not hard to realize that ignoring our most fundamental rights is a path we should not go down. Imagine how a strongman President – Donald Trump, perhaps – could use this power to do unspeakable things. An assault on one of our rights is a threat to all of our rights. For the sake of all our freedoms, I hope good Democrats choose to join those on the other side of the aisle and refuse to go down this dangerous road.