Prohibiting individuals on a terrorist watch list from purchasing fire arms might seem like a no-brainer. But what would implementing such legislation mean for civil rights and personal privacy? Would it even do much to combat domestic terrorism when an already corrupt government has the authority to determine what qualifies an individual to be put on said list?
This week after outrage over the Orlando shooting, many Americans once again demanded Congress do something to stop weapons from falling into the wrong hands. The Democrats were happy to oblige. Did they protest selling weapons to Saudi Arabia or Israel? Did they protest NATO involvement in Syria, Libya, and the rest of the Middle East? Did they protest the United States arming jihadist rebel groups? No. They instead staged a dramatic sit-in lasting 25 hours demanding that anyone on a domestic federal government watch-list be banned from purchasing a firearm.
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The concept of the American government creating a watch-list based on religious beliefs or radical tendencies echoes the black lists of the McCarthy era. Back then it was communism, now it’s Islam; plus now we can throw phone and internet surveillance into the equation. Instead of learning from the mistakes of the past we seem to be asking the government to repeat them.
So who would be on this watch list? If you’re not a radical jihadist you don’t have anything to worry about, right? That’s the issue– we don’t know how this will turn out. We already know a “terrorist” watch list and no-fly list exists; but we as the public have no way to precisely determine who is on it and what they did to get on there. We can take a couple guesses though. About half of individuals on the list end up being confirmed as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” And keep in mind, those are only individuals the federal government ultimately determined to have no affiliation– just imagine how many are still in question yet probably don’t have any connections to a “terrorist” group.
Before we get into the slippery-slope argument regarding watch lists, we cannot overlook the race element that already exists. Let’s face it: the majority of those already on the watch list are probably either Muslim or Arab. The FBI and NYPD already have a history of throwing out an ineffective dragnet to catch domestic radical jihadists in post-911 America; even going undercover in order to ensnare otherwise innocent individuals by trying to entice them to commit terrorist acts. And let’s not forget that the Orlando shooter– which prompted this debate– was removed from the watch list prior to the shooting.
More than 1.5 million names have been added to this list within the past 5 years and the number is always growing. Allowing the federal government to ban individuals on a watch-list from purchasing a gun doesn’t stop gun violence– it just gives the FBI the authority to expand how they determine who ends up on a list and how. Just yesterday, the Senate narrowly defeated a proposal that would give the FBI warrantless access to American citizens’ internet browsing history. I’m sure most Americans would not feel comfortable allowing the federal government to use their internet history and Twitter follows as an adequate judge of character.
With expanded watch-lists and background checks, would someone who supports the Black Lives Matter movement or indigenous movements be denied access to a firearm? And why stop with firearms? Why not just expand the no-fly list to include passport applications and jobs in government agencies? Furthermore, this election has shown us that a majority of Americans are fed up with the current two party system with large portions moving farther left into Socialism, farther right towards Libertarian, and even some moving towards authoritarian Fascism. Why not just expand the watch list to include individuals with “radical” political beliefs? Just wait for another mass shooting to be committed by a white fascist or neo-Nazi and Americans will be asking to expand the watch list based on political beliefs. The problem arises when you realize that “radical political beliefs” is a pretty broad category widely open to determination however the federal government sees fit. And they kind of need the two-party system to stay in-tact in order to conduct business as usual.
So perhaps instead of giving up our rights slowly but surely, we should address the problem of what causes gun violence in the first place. If we want to stop radical domestic jihadists, perhaps we should stop bombing Muslim-majority countries and selling weapons to Israel. If we want to stop political or religious domestic terrorism, perhaps we should stop making certain groups feel like outcasts– even if we believe them to be “wrong.” The Orlando shooter for instance– an allegedly gay conservative Muslim living in a country that expresses a strong distaste for both gays and Muslims– surely had no hope for feeling included here. Even if these allegations are not true, I hope you can understand the point. And this is not to express empathy for the shooter, but rather to identify the problem of gun violence. Indeed, a lack of inclusion or acceptance in society seems to be a common theme among domestic terrorism cases across the board.
So banning those on the watch-list from purchasing a weapon won’t stop gun violence in America. It’s like putting a used band-aid onto an infected wound. In the long run, expanded surveillance and watch lists will only further divide us, drive fear, and cause the public to censor themselves. Almost seems like that would create more civil unrest and eventually physical violence. We as Americans cannot succumb to fear; we cannot go down this path again.
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