Today Senator Heidi Heitkamp joined with Republican Senator Susan Collins to propose, after the terror attack on a night club in Orlando, yet another iteration of gun control. Yesterday the Senate shot down four such proposals (video above). Here’s the New York Times describing what Heitkamp and Collins are proposing in their bill:
The legislation being drafted by Ms. Collins would bar the sale of guns to terrorism suspects who appear on either the government’s no-fly list or the so-called “selectee” list, in which individuals are subjected to additional security screening before being allowed to board an airplane. Those lists are far more narrow than the federal terrorist screening database, which is the focus of a proposal sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, one of the four measures to be voted on Monday.
But while the gun restrictions proposed by Ms. Collins would target a narrower group of individuals, her measure does not require federal prosecutors to demonstrate “probable cause” of criminal terrorist activity, which is required in an alternative to the Feinstein measure sponsored by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican.
The Cornyn amendment was one of those voted down yesterday (Heitkamp voted no, but Senator John Hoeven voted yes).
On Heitkamp’s bill, however, it’s alarming that any member of Congress would feel it’s ok to give the government permission to deny people their civil rights simply by placing them on a list, either the “no-fly” list which bans you from air travel or the “selectee” list which merely gets you extra attention from the TSA when boarding a plane.
The federal no-fly list is shrouded in secrecy. A leak in 2013 showed some 47,000 people on it (though only 800 Americans), and many of these people have no idea they’re even on the list. The government sends no official notification to those on the list; many times, people don’t find out until they’re denied boarding at the airport,” Fox News reported last year.
[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]…rights that can be arbitrarily removed by the government aren’t really rights at all.[/mks_pullquote]
“There is this black box procedure which operates purely behind the curtains and no one is able to part those curtains and find out what really goes on,” airline industry analyst Robert Mann said at the time.
The mechanisms for ending up on the no-fly list are a secret, though there has been speculation about the criteria. Controversial social media postings can land you on it, as can travel to certain parts of the world or even just having a name similar to someone the government thinks should be on the list.
Would we accept denying people their rights to speak freely or vote or lawfully assemble based on such secretive and arbitrary means? I’d like to think that the American public – right, left and in between – would be disgusted at such a thought. And yet these are the means by which we deny people the ability to travel on private airlines, and some like Senator Heitkamp would like to also use them to deny people their 2nd amendment rights.
To be fair, the legislation Heitkamp is backing would give people denied their rights the ability to appeal the decision. “Under Collins’s proposal, the attorney general doesn’t have to go to court first to prove you’re a suspected terrorist (as Republicans want). But if you are on these lists and are denied your right to buy a gun, you can challenge it afterward. And if you win, the government has to pay your legal costs,” the Washington Post reports.
But that process puts the burden of proof on the person being denied their rights. If the government suspects you’re a threat, and puts you on a list, you have to prove you’re not a threat to have your rights restored. That runs contrary to the idea that you are innocent until the government proves that you are guilty.
Really, this is larger than even the 2nd amendment. This is a 5th amendment issue. The constitution requires that the government make its case against you, in a fair proceeding at which you are afforded rights such as legal counsel and the right to confront witnesses against you, before denying you your liberties. That’s an important protection, because rights that can be arbitrarily removed by the government aren’t really rights at all.