dexeron: (Angst)
[personal profile] dexeron
Leaving public because it relates to my previous post about fear. Action taken in fear, without thought and merely for the sake of action, is wrong, regardless of which party does it.

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The latest attempt by Senate Democrats to pass a "no-fly, no buy" bill was defeated. The bill would have prohibited firearms purchases by people on the Terrorist Screening Center's "No Fly List." I've heard lots of people blame the Republicans for preventing passage of the bill. I've heard them called "obstructionist," or that they are "standing in the way." I've heard the claim that they are, in effect, "voting for terror suspects to buy guns."

Let's take a moment to discuss the No Fly List.

The list has existed, in one form or another, for quite some time. Prior to September 11th, 2001, there were 16 people prohibited from flying because they "presented a specific known or suspected threat to aviation." 16 people is not a lot, but of course, we all know what happened on September 11th. The world changed that day, and so did our understanding of threats. We realized that our response to those threats had to change as well.

By November of that same year, 400 people had been placed on that list, a thousand by the end of the year, 70,000 by 2005. Some of this is very understandable. Prior to 2001, we really had no conception of airplanes being used as weapons of mass destruction and terror, and that new information meant that we had to more carefully consider whether or not we should be more vigilant with respect to who we allowed on board those planes. But in the mad rush to do something, we went too far: along with the Patriot Act, we grossly expanded the use of the no-fly list, and although only a small percentage of names on the list were Americans, the criteria for adding a name to the list remained secret, and the oversight non-existent.

For years, we liberals complained about this. The list had obvious problems: it was an abuse of power, a violation of due process, it lacked transparency, there was no process to appeal ones inclusion. Horror stories were in the news all the time of innocent people who were denied boarding (or who were arrested) because they had been accidentally added to the list (without any notification) because of arcane criteria that were never revealed, or because they happened to share a name with someone else suspected of illegal activity. Remember the outrage when the infant was refused entry to a plane because he happened to share the name with a suspected terrorist? Remember the ACLU attorney who was arrested and detained because his name was somehow on the list?

Remember when Senator Ted Kennedy was repeatedly delayed because he was flagged as a false positive? It took him three weeks of direct appeal to Homeland Security Secretary Ridge to get the matter cleared up. How many ordinary citizens have the ability to directly contact the Secretary of Homeland Security? Kennedy himself said, referring to the average person without political contacts: "How are they going to be able to get to be treated fairly and not have their rights abused?"

Some of the problems with this list have been addressed, though only slowly and only after court decisions forced the issue. The number of names on it went down, and now has gone back up again. Even now, despite some changes in procedures, the list is still problematic, and still a huge violation of people's rights. For years, it, along with the Patriot act, was held up as a perfect example of the kind of "big-government conservatism" that we all despised under the Bush administration. We decried it as largely racist, and hugely unfair.

Why, then, are so many of us suddenly embracing the idea of "No-fly, no buy" when it comes to weapons purchases?

There has been no substantive change to the administration of the no-fly list. It still is a violation of rights. Why, then, is it suddenly not only permissible, but essential, that it be used to deny firearms purchases? What has changed, apart from the discussion changing from purchase of an airline ticket to purchase of a firearm?

If you thought the list was a problem before, but don't see a problem with it being used as a tool to control firearms purchases, than you are, in effect, saying: "this right isn't important to me, so I don't care how it's addressed," even if that comes in the form of a list that grossly violates the due-process rights of American citizens. (You may find the Second Amendment to be obsolete, but I'd hope that you think that the Fifth is still important.) It's a "by any means necessary" attitude, and that's an improper attitude with which to address any issue of public policy. It's that kind of attitude that brought us the expansion of the no-fly list and the Patriot Act in the first place.

It's, frankly, hypocrisy. We rail against abuses of power that come from the Republicans, but we're willing to roll over on this one because it happens to align with an issue we happen to be in agreement with politically.

We are so much better than this. I know that opinions on guns and gun control run the gamut, and that's OK. We are all entitled to our ideas and opinions on how (or if) guns should be controlled, and how best to go about that. We can have that debate. But the moment we start talking about jettisoning our rights just because the debate is hard, just because there are no simple, easy answers, (or worse, just because this time we happen to agree with the restriction politically) is the moment you've lost me. I can't walk down that path with you, because while the question of our Constitutional rights is a huge morass of loose threads, you can't just start yanking on those threads without unraveling the whole thing.

Republicans are, traditionally, unhelpful on this issue, but this time their "obstructionism" is not to blame for the defeat of this latest "no fly, no buy" bill. We are. We are to blame for thinking that doing "anything," regardless of how practical or problematic, was more important than doing "something useful."
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Daniel Lustig

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