No flights, no service, no guns

In his weekly address this past week, President Obama added a new dimension to the debate surrounding gun control by calling for citizens on the FBI’s No Fly List to be prohibited from buying guns, tying the move to the recent shooting in San Bernardino, California. “Right now, people on the No Fly list can walk into a store and buy a gun. That is insane. If you’re too dangerous to board a plane, you’re too dangerous, by definition, to buy a gun,” he said. The President reiterated this bold measure in a rare primetime address on Sunday, saying “Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.”

The comments immediately raised the ire of both Republicans and the ACLU, who believe that citizens shouldn’t have their Second Amendment rights impeded without due process. Several commentators, including those on Vox and The Atlantic, have already discussed the irony of this situation. The No Fly List was created by the Bush Administration following 9/11. At the time, Democrats argued that due process needed to be protected, while Republicans stated that national security trumps individual liberties. These roles have now switched.

While I understand the view that a secret list that limits individuals is problematic in a nation that grounds itself in due process and individual rights, I feel that this move is both justified and necessary to maintain our national security.

Critics of the measure have expressed fears of the No Fly List’s arbitrary nature, which might restrict individual liberties of those undeserving of censure. This is certainly a rational argument. As I mentioned before, the list—and how one gets placed on it—is a state secret. However, due to several leaks, we have some idea of its parameters. A leaked 2013 government document stated that individuals placed on the list posed a threat to commit: “1) an act of terrorism involving aircraft, 2) an act of terrorism targeting the homeland, 3) an act of terrorism against the US government abroad, and 4) another act of violent terrorism that he was operationally capable of committing.”

These last two points are important, as they have nothing to do with airplanes. In effect, these points are directed at people who show terroristic tendencies, thus precluding them from flying. In order to be placed on the No Fly List, the law enforcement community needs some form of evidence that you are a threat. This “reasonable suspicion” can be gathered anywhere—including Facebook and Twitter—but there must be justification.

While the No Fly List may seem daunting numerically—the most recent leak in 2013 revealed 47,000 names on the List—not all of those individuals are Americans. In fact, only 800 of those names belong to American citizens. Since that’s only two percent of the list, we can rightfully assume that this list is mostly designed to prevent foreign radicals from coming into the U.S. In order to put American citizens on such a list, the intelligence community must have damning evidence that they pose a threat to our security.

I won’t deny that the No Fly List has its problems. The late-Senator Ted Kennedy ended up on it for a time. But he, like many other innocent travellers, was able to remove himself from it. But in spite of the pitfalls and controversies, and despite my left-leaning disposition, the No Fly List has worked. Since 9/11, there has only been one terrorist plot on an American airplane—the 2009 “Underwear Bomber”—that occurred in a year when the government rolled back the list to less than 5,000 individuals. We are unequivocally safer with the list than without it.

Now, it is time we use the list to provide security to Americans in the skies, as well as on our shores. According to a study by the CDC and the State Department, firearms killed 406,496 Americans between 2001 and 2013. Terrorists killed 3,380. Americans defend a right that leads to the deaths of our fellow citizens every day.

While I believe that every right should have limits (see: First Amendment and a crowded theater), I also understand that the present political climate will unlikely create the restrictions that we need, rather opting for “thoughts and prayers.” Using the No Fly List as a No Gun List may not have been its original intent, but it does fall within the List’s spirit. We have a list of people who pose a reasonable threat to our livelihood. I’m sure there would be some mistakes or mix ups on the way, but since those on the List have the ability to appeal, isn’t it better to be cautious now than mourn later? Shouldn’t Americans give up a little liberty to protect our collective welfare? Many believed so 14 years ago. They should agree again.

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