Gun control is a great idea, terrorist watchlists are bullshit

A letter from the ACLU to lawmakers asked them to vote down the Democrats' proposed limits on firearm sales, but not for the same reasons that the NRA objected to the legislation.

The ACLU endorses the idea that the Second Amendment has limits and that Congress has the authority to regulate gun sales, but points out the obvious: that using "terrorist watchlists" as a criteria for extra scrutiny legitimizes these lists, which are opaque, error-prone, subject to bias, secretive, vindictive, and, well, bullshit.

My guess, watching the filibuster and the ensuing debate, was that the Dems who wrote the amendments wanted to add a deal-breaker to it, in the form of the terrorist watchlist provisions — they wanted to dare Republicans to look "soft on terror." By hitching the eminently sensible idea of background checks to the hot-button issue of terrorism, the Dems were hoping to force the GOP to take the whole issue on in one go.

This is deeply problematic. Terrorist watchlists are pseudorandom number generators wired into the Islamaphobic hindbrains of the American law enforcement establishment, with lashings of McCarthyist paranoia about environmental, peace, and animal rights groups. They are a mockery of the rule of law, the freedoms of association and speech, and evidence-based policy.

We need background checks and we need an end to secret lists of state enemies. By all means, the perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good, but now that the Dems have scored their political points against the GOP, let's keep in mind that the GOP didn't vote down "gun checks, especially for suspected terrorists" — they voted down "gun checks, especially for people who've been put on secret watchlists that make a mockery of the US Constitution."

By relying on the broken watchlist system, Sen. Cornyn's proposal would further entrench it. Sen. Feinstein's gun control proposal, on the other hand, has moved away from a previous version that expressly relied on watchlisting standards. Her new proposal does not rely on the mere presence of an individual on a watchlist as a basis for denial of a firearm permit. Still, her new proposal uses vague and overbroad criteria and does not contain necessary due process protections. It also includes a new notification requirement that could result in a "watchlist" that is even broader than any that currently exists — so broad that it would include even people long ago cleared of any wrongdoing by law enforcement.

Vote "NO" on Cornyn Amendment No. 4749 on Firearms
Vote "NO" on Feinstein Amendment No. 4720 on Firearm
[Karin Johanson & Chris Anders, ACLU]

The Use of Error-Prone and Unfair Watchlists Is Not the Way to Regulate Guns in America

[Hina Shamsi & Chris Anders/ACLU]

(Thanks, Jon!)

(Image: Welch-McCarthy-Hearings, PD)