DHS Official Argues Against Using No-Fly List To Bar People From Buying Guns

At least one DHS official seems to be against the idea of using no-fly list to stop people from buying firearms.

No-Fly List

An official at the Department of Homeland Security is pouring cold water on the idea of using the no-fly list and other terror watch list as a screening list for who can purchase a firearm, arguing that using the data for things other than what it was intended woud be a mistaken:

A top official at the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday appeared to break with the White House’s call for Congress to ban people on the federal no-fly list from buying guns.

“I believe it would be apples and oranges” to use the watch list for anything other than its designed purpose, Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Alan Bersin told House lawmakers in an Oversight Committee hearing on Thursday.

The comments are likely to propel arguments of conservatives and other critics of the White House’s proposal, who warn that the restrictions would unfairly prevent people from exercising their constitutional rights to purchase a firearm.

“My concern is there has been a lot of talk recently about using the watch list for purposes other than what they were intended, for instance determining whether or not Americans are able to exercise their rights under the Second Amendment,” Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) told Bersin.

The day after the hearing, Bersin said that his remarks “were in the context of an extended discussion about screening procedures and in no way call into question my view that terrorists should not be able to obtain weapons.”

“To be clear, it is the administration’s position that Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun,” Bersin said in a statement Friday.

“This is a matter of national security and common sense, and it is a position I and the department support.”

Bersin went on to claim that ”Less than 0.1 percent” of the people on the no-fly list are Americans, but he continued the past position of DHS and other officials of refusing to confirm or deny the exact number of people who are on the list, although the number is believed to be at least in the tens of thousands. Being overly generous and assuming that we’re talking about a range of between 10,000 and 99,999, then we’re talking about something between 10 and 100 people. If that’s the case, then I tend to agree with Ed Morrissey that it doesn’t seem to me that it would be all that difficult for law enforcement to investigate these people and charge them with whatever crimes they might be guilty of rather than putting them on a list without due process and denying them constitutional rights including not just the right to purchase a legal firearm, but also the right to travel within the United States which, at least in a limited sense as been recognized as being one of the privileges and immunities due to American citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment. The implied answer to this question, of course, is that the actual number of Americans on the list is far larger than Bersin suggests, and that the number of mistakes in the list is far larger than DHS has ever been willing to acknowledge, something that at least anecdotal evidence seems to confirm.

Leaving the numbers aside, though, Beslin’s remarks simply bring home the points I’ve raised in my previous posts about using these lists for purposes other than how they were intended to be used. The errors and mistakes that have been documented in the use of the no-fly list in the time since it has existed, for example, argue strongly against the idea of using it as if it were equivalent to the criminal records databases that are typically accessed when background checks are conducted by firearms dealers. Additionally, there is a strong argument that using the data in this manner would be unconstitutional given the fact that it doesn’t require commission of a crime to be placed on the lists, nor is the DHS even required to make certain that it has correct information to place a person on a list that essentially means they cannot fly even if they haven’t done anything wrong. Expanding that to deny them other rights, therefore, would clearly seem to be inappropriate. Whether President Obama and Democrats who have put forward this idea will listen to people like Bersin, who seem to know more about this than politicians who are clearly just using political opportunism to advance an agenda, remains to be seen. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2016, Congress, Guns and Gun Control, Law and the Courts, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    The day after the hearing, Bersin said that his remarks “were in the context of an extended discussion about screening procedures and in no way call into question my view that terrorists should not be able to obtain weapons.”

    “To be clear, it is the administration’s position that Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun,” Bersin said in a statement Friday.

    “This is a matter of national security and common sense, and it is a position I and the department support.”

    Pretty poor job of arguing “Against Using No-Fly List To Bar People From Buying Guns”.

    …rather than putting them on a list without due process and denying them constitutional rights including not just the right to purchase a legal firearm, but also the right to travel within the United States which, at least in a limited sense as been recognized as being one of the privileges and immunities due to American citizens under the Fourteenth Amendment.

    You’re getting close to admitting the problem isn’t guns, but the lack of due process for the list. However you seem firm that denying people air travel is much less important than denying them guns because 2nd Amendment. You do realize that probably most of the US citizens on the list are innocent of anything, and also have no intention of buying guns?

  2. stonetools says:

    The day after the hearing, Bersin said that his remarks “were in the context of an extended discussion about screening procedures and in no way call into question my view that terrorists should not be able to obtain weapons.”
    “To be clear, it is the administration’s position that Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun,” Bersin said in a statement Friday.

    This seems to directly contradict the title of the post. Clearly someone seems horrified at the idea that that this should go to Congress, where the Republicans , who have excoriated Obama for being “soft on Islamic terrorism”, are going to have to argue why someone who is too dangerous to fly on a plane should nonetheless be permitted to go to the nearest Walmart and load up on assault rifles and ammunition if they can pass a cursory background check. The tap dancing will be tremendous and the schadenfruede will be delicious for any liberal who has been accused of being unpatriotic because of their concern for constitutional rights.

    Meanwhile that Doug, who seems to have discovered that the no fly list was problematic only days ago, has yet to propose an answer to the real national security problem posed by terrorists using our lax gun laws to arm themselves for the purpose of committing acts of mass slaughter. It’s almost as if he is pretending that it’s not a problem , because the alternative-sensible gun safety laws- contradicts his ideology.

  3. walt moffett says:

    FWIW, as part of their long struggle against the no-fly list, the ACLU has said similar.

    As to solution, the tedious task of building consensus, winning elections, legislation, constitutional amendments, comes to mind.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Vladimir Putin, (aka Trump’s man’s man), a real leader , would have this “official” disappeared in a Siberian second. Nobody would DARE disagree with the Dear Leader because…. Testosterone.

  5. stonetools says:

    @walt moffett:

    Here is what the ACLU said:

    There is no constitutional bar to reasonable regulation of guns, and the No Fly List could serve as one tool for it, but only with major reform.

    That sounds quite a distance from Doug’s statements that the no fly list should NEVER be used.Doug and the enthusiasts also seem to have a problem with the very idea of “reasonable regulation of guns”.

    As to the rest of the post, saying that the solution must involve politics isn’t actually saying anything. It’s sort of like saying that the solution to a leaky pipe involves plumbing. No sh#t, Sherlock. What solution should the politicians be working toward? THAT is the question.

  6. walt moffett says:

    @stonetools:

    Well, that depends on what the problem is seen to be. If its too many guns in too many hands, a mass gun round up/surrender (with appropriate Australian like gun laws, etc) would be the simple answer. If its too many hands holding guns, maybe a mass psychological screening (and if needed involuntary indefinite therapeutic confinement) for those deemed unsuitable. In the alternative, expand the NFA to include all semiautomatic weapons with again a round of those weapons whose owners fail to buy the tax stamp, fail background screen, etc.

    Of course, too, those pushing for more regulation should surrender their weapons, turn in their carry permits, eschew any armed protection other than what Janos Citizen receives.

  7. DrDaveT says:

    A top official at the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday appeared to break with the White House’s call for […]

    Wait, what? I’ve been assured by any number of Republican Congresspersons that the executive branch is nothing but the willing instrument of Obama’s least whim, existing only to prosecute White House agendas and persecute adversaries of the Kenyan Muslim Usurper. How could this be?

  8. grumpy realist says:

    I’ve always felt that the “people on no-fly list” –> “keep them from owning guns” argument has been nothing more than an attempt by people on the left to rub the noses of people on the right in the inconsistencies of their positions.

    It’s fun to see people squirm and try to explain that well, yes, certain people are dangerous enough that we can’t allow them (HORRORS!) to jump on a plane but they aren’t enough of a potential terrorist risk that we have to worry about them loading up on guns and carrying out some lunatic shooting.