America continues to struggle through the aftermath of the Orlando shooting. Omar Mateen gunned down 49 innocent people in a gay nightclub—the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, as commonly defined.
The death rate from gun homicides in the U.S. is approximately the same as that of car accidents: 31 per million people. That's 27 people shot dead per day.
In an attempt to address these gun deaths, many political leaders are pushing for legislation that would prevent people on "no fly" terrorist watch lists from buying firearms.
How does it affect you?
Most literally, you could end up on a terrorist watch list. In recent years, the National Counterterrorism Center has accepted around 99% of all names submitted—and grown by more than 1.5 million names over the last five years. Many people on the list are never given explanations or offered meaningful ways to make sure their names are removed.
However, politicians from both parties are interested in the idea as a way to prevent further gun deaths. Donald Trump tweeted that he will meet with the NRA about the proposal. Hillary Clinton gave a full-throated endorsement of the plan, saying "if you’re too dangerous to get on a plane, you are too dangerous to buy a gun in America."
Should we allow Americans on terrorist watch lists to buy guns?
We prevent people from buying guns in many ways. Given the risk to American lives, we should clearly add another.
The Gun Control Act of 1968, for example, prevents many groups from buying guns: anyone under indictment for a major crime, anyone with a dishonorable military discharge, anyone who abuses drugs, anyone under a court order for harassment or stalking, and more.
These people have not been convicted of crimes, and yet we restrict their access to guns. Suspected terrorists should be first on this list.
Who thinks it is reasonable to prevent certain people from flying on an airplane, and allow those same people to purchase weapons? We know Al Qaeda leaders encourage followers to use our lax gun laws to commit acts of violence ("America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms... so what are you waiting for?")
We have seen the devastating impact of inaction. We saw it in Orlando. We saw it in Newtown, Virginia Tech, Columbine, San Bernardino, Aurora, Fort Hood—and the list goes on. This is one obvious step we can take to prevent seeing it again.
Unfortunately, it's not enough for this particular law, with this particular president, to seem like a good idea. The principle has to hold—and it doesn't.
Liberal comedian Trevor Noah sees this deep flaw in the proposal. "I know a secret terror watch list that limits your rights seems acceptable right now because it’s in President Obama’s control," he says. "But in 5 months, god forbid, that list could be in the tiny, tiny hands of Bronze Stalin."
Do we really want secret lists of people without full constitutional rights? This isn't fearmongering, it's practical; undefined "categories of individuals" can be added for any reason and people with similar names are often included by mistake.
As a society, we find it acceptable to restrict the rights of people found guilty of crimes, or even people on the end of a court order signed by a judge. But we do not allow government entities to restrict the rights of people who are merely suspected of breaking the law.
Supporting this legislation is effectively saying it's okay for the government to revoke your constitutional rights—and never need to justify why.