Democrats looking to differentiate themselves from the pack of 2020 candidates already hitting the campaign trail are resurfacing a gun control idea that has been abandoned several times over major civil rights concerns: a "no fly, no buy" rule that would prevent anyone on the government's secretive "no fly" list from obtaining any kind of firearm.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) championed "no fly, no buy" at a town hall on Monday night, suggesting that terrorists are currently allowed to obtain weapons because the government hasn't made the specific prohibition.
"Background checks," Warren proposed at the event in Mississippi. "At the federal level. No fly, no buy. Like if you're on the terrorist watchlist, maybe you shouldn't be able to buy a gun."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who just announced her presidential campaign to little fanfare over the weekend, also suggested pursuing a "no fly, no buy" policy at a campaign stop on Saturday, as part of a larger tirade on the government's failure to control who is able to purchase a weapon.
“Unfortunately, because the gun manufacturers only care about gun sales, they oppose the common sense reforms that can save lives,” Gillibrand told her crowd, also to applause. “They want to oppose universal background checks because they want to sell an assault rifle to a teenager in a Walmart. Or to someone on the terror watch list or to someone who’s gravely mentally ill with a violent background.”
The Obama administration tried to prevent those who had a qualified diagnosis of mental illness from purchasing firearms. But while a number of legislators — including plenty of Democrats — agreed that the policy was well-meaning, according to the Chicago Tribune, it failed to take into consideration that mental illness diagnoses are common, but that most people who are diagnosed with a mental illness are not homicidal or suicidal.
The policy also failed to follow the Constitution's mandate for a due process hearing when a "life, liberty, or property' right is revoked.
The same is true for the "no fly, no buy" rule Warren and Gillbrand are so much in favor of.
The "no fly" list and the "terrorist watch list" are two different things, but as the ACLU notes, it's impossible for any American to know if they are on either one, until they run up against law enforcement. There is no transparency in how the government decides who is on the list, no process for discovering if a citizen is among the targeted individuals, and no opportunity for redress if a citizen feels they should not be prevented from flying — or, in this case, purchasing a firearm.
The "no fly" list, especially, has had some famous additions, including the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
As Mediaite notes, if you end up on the list by mistake, as one Malaysian citizen did back in 2004, the process to get removed from the "no fly" or "terrorist watch list" is involved, and can sometimes take years. Rahinah Ibrahim ended up on the list because of an FBI error — paperwork filed incorrectly, labeling the college professor as a security risk.
As Washington Examiner writer Siraj Hashmi points out, the lists also unfairly target Muslims and those with Muslim names (and, specifically, those who share their Muslim name with a terrorist), and deprives people of their rights without the government ever even accusing them of a crime.
But it sounds pretty good in speeches.
Unfortunately for Warren and Gillibrand, it doesn't seem to be moving the ball forward. Both are mired at less than 7% in early polling; Gillibrand has yet to crack 1%.