Democrats' demagoguery on gun control

Liberal proposals about gun control and the no-fly list aren't just unconstitutional. They're also a red herring.

Can a no-fly list really help fight homegrown terrorism?
(Image credit: Mike Agliolo/Corbis)

In the dystopian thriller Minority Report, the government uses a police force called the Precrime Division to eliminate all murders before they even happen. Thanks to three drugged visionaries ("precogs") who have limited insight into the near future, the police supposedly know who will commit murders before they occur. The Precrime Divison then rounds the precriminals up before they can act. These precriminals spend the rest of their natural lives locked away in suspended animation without any chance to defend themselves.

The plot is preposterous, for many reasons, but perhaps especially to Americans used to due process. Who would ever agree to allow police to deprive people of their rights simply because three drugged visionaries in a shallow pool imagined that they might become a danger? How would people used to challenging government power and demanding proof beyond a reasonable doubt before surrendering their civil rights allow for the lack of court proceedings and challenging of witnesses?

It's not so crazy. And in a way, the Democrats already have a Precrime Division of their very own. It's all about the no-fly list and efforts to demagogue gun control.

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The idea of banning firearms purchases for those on the federal no-fly list has floated around for quite a while, but it has picked up steam over the last few days after the massacre in San Bernardino, California. It's clear that a husband-and-wife team plotted the attack on a conference of Syed Farook's colleagues. They also left pipe bombs as booby traps for first responders, and then shot at others before a police shootout left them both dead. The FBI now says that the couple had been radicalized "for quite some time," and that "they now had evidence that there was extensive planning for the attack," according to The New York Times.

The pertinent issue ought to be terrorism, and perhaps the vetting of Tafsheen Malik's K-1 "fiancée visa," which somehow missed Malik's use of a fictitious address in Pakistan. Instead, Democrats from Barack Obama down want to make gun control the issue. Obama made this a central part of his Sunday evening Oval Office address, attempting to shame Congress into using the no-fly list to bar sales of firearms.

"To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun," Obama said. "What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?" Perhaps the word suspect should be the first clue. The no-fly list, vastly expanded after the 9/11 attacks, is compiled by security and intelligence agencies without any due process, and few opportunities for later corrections for those named, identifies potential security risks based on a shifting set of criteria, where unnamed and unaccountable government employees have plenary authority to make those determinations.

Even "suspect" is stretching the concept. Nothing requires the federal government to actually charge people on this list. Nor are there requirements to remove people even if they have been acquitted of charges relating to terrorism, as The Intercept discovered when they acquired the procedure manual for the no-fly list. "The rulebook justifies this by noting that conviction in U.S. courts requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas watchlisting requires only a reasonable suspicion," Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux reported. "Once suspicion is raised, even a jury's verdict cannot erase it."

The courts have stepped in to stop this process. In June 2014, a federal judge ruled the process unconstitutional, a violation of the Fifth Amendment rights. Now Obama and his fellow Democrats want to use this unconstitutional process to deny Second Amendment rights too, and apply it to people who have never been charged or even perhaps questioned about the risk they supposedly represent.

And for what purpose? Which of the terrorist attacks cited by Obama in his speech — which included two he had never before acknowledged as such, the Fort Hood shooting and the Chattanooga attack on a military recruiting office — would a no-fly gun ban have prevented? None of them. None of the suspects were on the no-fly list. Farook and Malik flew last year with no problems, and Fort Hood terrorist Nidal Hasan was still in the Army. In fact, even after Russia warned the FBI about Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011, the U.S. allowed him to fly to Russia and back in 2012.

In other words, the no-fly list is not just unconstitutional, it's also a red herring. Democrats want to change the subject from the failure of this administration to prevent these attacks. When government feels the need to strip Americans of their constitutional rights — including the right to bear arms — they should prove their case in court while allowing for full due process. That is precisely why our founders wrote the Constitution in the first place: to protect a free people against the whimsy of tyrants. And it doesn't take a soggy precog to predict that the threat won't stop with the Second Amendment, either.

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