Senate Democrats Invoked the National Security State in the Name of Gun Control

In response to the mass shooting of 102 people – 49 of them killed – in Orlando, FL, Democrats in the US Senate proposed a set of bills designed to lessen the possibility of similar shootings in the future. One bill would, of course, expand background checks. Also, one of these bills, consistent with the President’s position, would prevent people on the Terrorist Security Administration (TSA) No Fly List from purchasing firearms.

Thus, the Senate Democrats have now invoked the National Security State to justify restrictions on gun purchases. The Democrats may have thought that Republicans would support gun restrictions couched in the language of national security. However, as I’m writing this, all of the Democratic proposals have been defeated.

But this proposal puts the issue of the National Security State front and center. Both libertarians and civil libertarians have protested the expansion of the National Security State, including NSA spying on Americans, the use of drones to kill American citizens on foreign soil, and the continuing operation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. All of these operations were and/or are conducted under cover of national security.

The American Civil Liberties Union defines the No Fly List as follows:

The No Fly List is a watch list of people the government has designated as known or suspected terrorists and prohibited from flying to and from the United States and over U.S. airspace. It is a subset of a larger watch list, called the Terrorist Screening Database, which is operated by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center.

The ACLU continues:

…the criteria for inclusion are so broad and vague that they inevitably ensnare innocent people engaged in First Amendment-protected speech, activity, or association. The process the government has established for people on the No Fly List to challenge their blacklisting is grossly insufficient and violates the U.S. Constitution’s due process guarantee.

The main tool of the National Security State is secrecy and the justification for secrecy is national security. So, if you arrive at the airport and are informed that you are on the No Fly List you will learn that the documents used to place you on the list are classified. When you try to get off the list you will be instructed to provide documentation that corrects or disproves the information on the documents used to put you on the list. So now you want to see the documents so you will know what you need to present in order to get off the list. But you can’t, because these documents are classified – in the interest of national security.

We all want to protect our transportation systems from people who may be actively plotting to commit acts of terrorism on our planes, trains, and buses. But the No Fly List is a questionable tool for ensuring our safety. And it is a very questionable means of guaranteeing our constitutional protections.

Perhaps the Democrats used this bill as an election campaign ploy. They can brand the Republicans as so beholden to the NRA that they are willing to allow suspected terrorists to buy assault weapons. But their willingness to uncritically invoke key tenets of the National Security State in the pursuit of legislative or political goals makes me question the commitment of the Democratic Party to basic civil liberties.

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One Comment on “Senate Democrats Invoked the National Security State in the Name of Gun Control”

  1. […] voted down four proposed gun bills, is considering a compromise bill that would prevent persons on terrorist watch lists from purchasing […]

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