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.
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.