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There has been a lot of chatter in the last couple days about individuals on the “Terrorist Screening Database” (or simply “Terrorist Watchlist”) being able to purchase firearms in the United States. The usual suspects from Senator Harry Reid to activist news organizations have begun a campaign for banning individuals on this list from being able to own firearms, and while there seems to be support for that idea from the usual gun control activists the reality of the situation is that it is an amazingly dangerous precedent to set using a hilariously awful and unreliable database.

First things first, what exactly is this “Terrorist Screening Database?” According to Wikipedia, the database is a combined effort of multiple government agencies to identify both known and suspected terrorists. On the surface that sounds like a pretty solid list of people who probably shouldn’t own a gun, but the issue is that the rules for being added to this ever growing list are amazingly loose and the database has been proven to be remarkably unreliable.

A report published by The Intercept details exactly the requirements for being added to the list, and they are remarkably low. Back in 2010 the New York Times reported on one woman whose life had been ruined by being placed on the terrorist watchlist in error. They looked into the ways that people are added to the list and found that there was a very low bar to being added.

The watch list is actually a succession of lists, beginning with the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, a centralized database of potential suspects. Mr. Travers said that about 10,000 names come in daily through intelligence reports, but that a large percentage are dismissed because they are based on “some combination of circular reporting, poison pens, mistaken identities, lies and so forth.”

The fact that a “large percentage” of names which are submitted to the watchlist are based on “lies and so forth” should be particularly disturbing. It shows that there doesn’t actually need to be any factual evidence in order to have your name submitted for addition to the database. As a result the database has been proven to be remarkably unreliable. A report by the OIG conducted in 2007 found that roughly 38% of the records were inaccurate.

The database is so unreliable and inaccurate that an 8 year old boy was prohibited from boarding an airplane because his name was on that list.

Gun control activists don’t seem to have a problem with that inaccuracy, but gun owners certainly do. The cold hard truth is that American citizens have a Constitutionally protected right to buy and shoot guns, and organizations like the NRA exist to safeguard that right. The fear among gun owners is that not only could the watchlist erroneously stop law abiding Americans from purchasing firearms, but that it could be abused by gun control activists to target individual gun owners and keep them from practicing their Constitutionally protected activity. That first New York Times article provides a perfect example of how a single false report can ruin someone’s life.

In May 2006, a co-worker told the state police that Mr. Scherfen had retrofitted the family car to carry bombs, court records show. (He said he had simply removed a broken seat from his old Mazda.) Not long after, Mr. Scherfen and Ms. Tureen began being detained at airports, jeopardizing his job.

One single person’s false report led to Mr. Scherfen being listed on the terrorist watchlist. Much the same way, gun owners are concerned that their political opponents could exploit that same process to add them to the list as well. We don’t have to imagine a hypothetical situation where that might happen — the New York Times has illustrated a perfect example of exactly that situation actually happening in real life.

Another complicating factor is the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric coming from the Democratic party. During the October Democratic primary debate, Hillary Clinton proclaimed that the NRA and the Republican Party were “the enemy.” The New York Daily News has gone one step further, continuously proclaiming that the National Rifle Association should be declared a terrorist organization. There’s even an online petition to make that happen. The concern among gun owners (including the five million Americans who are NRA members) is that the simple act of owning a firearm and belonging to a gun rights advocacy organization could become sufficient cause for being proclaimed a “domestic terrorist” and therefore banned from future firearms purchases.

For those who want to think a little further down that dark path, there are zero protections in place to keep the “terrorist watchlist” from being abused. Left leaning publications such as the Daily Kos, the Huffington post, and even the New York Times have started openly calling fro the complete ban and confiscation of certain firearms in the United States. With no due process protections in place there’s nothing to keep an administration Hell-bent on gun control from adding all Americans to the list as an end run around the Second Amendment.

The root cause of the problem is that the “terrorist watchlist” isn’t actually a list of terrorists — it’s a list of people that might possibly be terrorists, of which over a third are inaccurate entries. There’s no great burden of proof required to be added to the list and once added it is nearly impossible to get removed.

While the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to own a gun, there’s another amendment at work here as well: the fifth amendment guarantee to due process. The Constitution demands that no American be deprived of their rights without due process, yet activists who want to use this inaccurate and secret list to deprive people of their right to own firearms are demanding that we do exactly that. Even the ACLU takes offense to that idea.

“Instead of a watchlist limited to actual, known terrorists, the government has built a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future,” says Hina Shamsi, the head of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “On that dangerous theory, the government is secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists and giving them the impossible task of proving themselves innocent of a threat they haven’t carried out.”

While Harry Reid might demonize the NRA for their opposition to using the terrorist watchlist to block people from buying guns, the reality of the situation is that the NRA is right. Like it or not, the ability to purchase a firearm is a right protected by the U.S. Constitution and the Supreme Court. Senator Reid is demanding that we use a secret list to deny people their Constitutionally protected rights — one that has no due process, no oversight, and no clear way to clear your name. Even the New York Times has illustrated exactly how broken the system has become. I’m sure that if Senator Reid were demanding that people on the terrorist watchlist be denied the ability to vote he wouldn’t be getting the same support among Democrats, but he would be equally wrong as he is in this situation.

Let’s walk a little further down that garden path to Hell. It isn’t hard to imagine that over the next few years there will be more of these “lone wolf” terrorist attacks and the public will increasingly demand that the government “do something” to combat the threat. Is it that much of a leap to think that there might come a day when the call goes up to ban anyone on the “terrorist watchlist” from enjoying other civil rights, such as voting? “We need to keep these terrorists from influencing American politics! We need to close the terror gap!” And without any protections whatsoever on who is added to the list, with the increased rhetoric about illegal immigration and certain religious groups, it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario where Americans of a certain religion could find themselves suddenly having their civil rights revoked one “terror gap” at a time.

So why do gun control activists continue to push for this list — dangerously inaccurate and laughably easy to be listed even if you’re completely innocent — to be used to block gun purchases? The simple reason is that they care more about the need to “do something” to “feel safer” than protecting the rights of American citizens. Time and again we have seen that the common belief among gun control activists is that the fewer guns “on the street” the better the situation. That’s the reason for gun buybacks, continued restrictions on firearms ownership, and the ever increasing “universal background check” proposals which do more to restrict firearms ownership than to reduce crime. The goal seems to be to simply stop people from buying guns, no matter how that happens.

There’s a real reason why the NRA is blocking the idea of using the “terrorist watchlist” to police gun sales, and it’s a damn good one at that. Senator Harry Reid is demanding that we start implementing secret lists to prohibit American citizens from exercising their Constitutionally protected rights. He is clamoring for the destruction of the very freedoms that made America great. If opposition to that kind of insanity constitutes terrorism then sign me up.

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76 Responses to Why Using the Terrorist Watchlist to Restrict Gun Sales is a Terrible and Dangerous Idea

  1. Rights, shmites… If it suited his purposes, and he thought he could get away with it, he’d be in favor of anyone on any list, even the Publishers Clearinghouse mailing list, be denied ANY right he didn’t want you to have.

    The more desperate they get, the stupider they sound.

    • What’s happening right now is called a “moral panic”. Something similar happened after Sandy Hook when gun-controllers believed they had a final chance to begin prohibition of firearms ownership. They failed, largely due to the spirited counter arguments coming from the NRA (the “good guy with a gun” argument) and with a gun owning population which was a lot larger and politically motivated than the gun-controllers thought.

      It’s not surprising that in this current moral panic after the Paris attacks that gun-controllers are at it again—this time aiming at using terrorist watch lists as a pretext to keep guns out of people’s hands. Think a politicized, corrupt, government like ours wouldn’t start looking for ways to put gun-owners on terrorists watch lists? Think again.

      • Are we 6? No. But I prefer that TTAG be a website I can peruse while my 5 year old looks over my shoulder (which is why I’ve learned not to click the names of any model, super or otherwise, mentioned here).

        More importantly, the quality of conversation can only rest where are vocabulary does. Whether low or high-brow, the profanity and pretension do nothing to advance meaning.

  2. The NYT, politicians, et al giving lip service to rights they claim are important when it can be used to destroy a right they refuse to recognize? Naaaa… no future consequences there.

  3. It wasn’t long ago the Democrats were all hot and bothered that the watch list existed at all. Ending the watch list and the no-fly list were pet projects of the more progressive wing and a favorite of MSNBC. They would cite unfairness, profiling and inaccurate data.

    But now it’s all okay because gunz!

    • I thought ending the list was one of those rare bipartisan things – it came down to whether or not your congressional district was making money from it and how much of that income was funneled to reelection campaigns.

  4. No DUE PROCESS!
    “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” Franklin
    If you take someones rights away without cause! What’s to stop someone from taking away your rights when they want to?
    “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees”! (don’t know who said it but, I damned well like it!)

  5. The fact that a list exists at all that is used to curtail anyone’s rights in any way is an affront to our way of life and should not be permitted. All those involved should be tried for civil rights violations.

    And let’s take this list formulation to the next level. If you have a NRA sticker on your car and it’s captured by any camera, anywhere, you’re added to the list. If you have a Republican sticker on your car… Or you donate to a certain non profit that the IRS doesn’t fancy. Or you’re car parks near a Mosque. Or a Synagogue. Or a Church. And now that you’re on a list and you go to a parent teacher conference in your car with your NRA and Jesus Love You stickers, will you be assaulted by 19 armed LEOs? And are you then stopped every time you drive through a liberal gun hating state like John Fillipidis? Am I about to end up on a list? And because you read this, are you?

  6. It was just a few weeks ago that politicians and the anti’s started openly calling the NRA terrorists. Now they don’t want anybody who might could be maybe considered a terrorist to have guns. If “the NRA” (which is really several million gun owners) ARE terrorists then the list will instantly expand to include them. I’m surprised nobody else beat me to this realization. It’s not even being cleverly disguised.

    • Correction. Nick did cover that point. Apparently my browser only loaded about 25% of the article the first time i read it. I’ll blame it on the adds and move on having now read the entire thing.

      And to think, all this time I was a terrorist and didn’t even know it . . .

    • And why isn’t the NRA suing these people and organizations for defamation? Why aren’t they having them investigated for hate crimes?

  7. Wouldn’t it be great if some new Snowden type just put Reids wife on the no-fly list. Or maybe his staffers. He wouldn’t have a clue until he went to take a flight, it would be beautiful.

  8. I know you guys don’t like ad hominem attacks so I won’t call Harry Reid a stupid F’ing idiot because that would be rude and mean and might be a micro-aggression. Or is that a Macro-aggression?

  9. Dear Republicans,
    Let’s close the NRA loophole that lets terror suspects buy Paris-style assault rifles in America.

    Reid holds nothing republican ‘dear’
    It is not an NRA loophole
    Terror suspects is addressed in the article
    Paris-style? As apposed to Chicago-style? Another bloody shirt
    He is left with “in America”
    The only two words that are factual, taken in context, also amount to falsehood.
    Nothing new here, just fun to rip on it a bit.

  10. Americans buy this crap thinking it makes them safer, when in reality it makes them less secure. The more data collected, names on a list, metadata being scraped, the less secure the system becomes and the more unreliable the intelligence.

    High school freshmen students who take a basic systems class understand the concept of garbage in – garbage out…a concept that seems to be lost on the intelligence community.

  11. The NRA loophole? Did the NRA come up with NICS and then create a secret list of supposed terrorists, 2000 of which were able to pass a background check? This does not even take into account the thousands on that list that did not try to buy a firearm. Harry and his ilk would mess their knickers if everyone on their lists were offered a complimentary NICS check and 85% passed.

    Am I missing something?

  12. Well, I’m an NRA member and an avid poster on TTAG so that probably gets me on the list.

    But I once wrote a (completely pointless) paper on Marx, which required me buying a copy of The Communist Manifesto….so we’re cool, right Harry?

  13. ok, yeah, now that some light has been shed on what constitutes this list and how to get on it, this may not be the best starting place for disarming would be terrorists.

  14. New day, same old shit. The think the Bill of Rights should consist of only one sentence: “You have the right to shut up and do as you are told.”

  15. I would like to know about this loop hole that allows me to legally buy a full auto AK 74. sadly one of the smoothest firearms that I’ve shot and would be nice to have one.

  16. I, for one, am all for denying people any arbitrary rights I find inconvenient, as long as I get to pick the people and the rights.

    Oh, wait.

    Can we do political speech next? Tons of stuff that Just Isn’t Helpful(tm), that is, doesn’t quite agree with my preferences, and makes it harder for me to slam through what I want to do (which many other people do not – jerks.)

    Oh, sait. That one’s taken too.

    Nevermind.

    Correcting from a prior thread, the ACLU, despite themselves, actually has reasonable oversight and background information on watch / interesting info / maybe there’s something here / stop them from doing any damn thing / off to Langly – list issue. They’re a good resource on what’s going on scope, contents and “processes” around that list.

    And I look forward to their impassioned objection to this latest encroachment, and the associated prolonged, implacable series of legal actions pushing back this latest over reach. (Because they’re all about the rights, not who is doing the encroaching, or who is encroached upon.)

    Still waiting.

  17. Da Tovarish Reid! And we must go to gun shops; get all Form 4473. Then we find all enemies of State. The Committee will be pleased!

  18. The gun store loophole, the PPT Loophole, NRA loophole. Everything that enables you to buy a gun is a potential loophole in the eyes of a statist.

  19. ” Mr. Travers said that about 10,000 names come in daily through intelligence reports, but that a large percentage are dismissed because they are based on “some combination of circular reporting, poison pens, mistaken identities, lies and so forth.” Poison pens and lies are to be accepted as a manner of possibly ending on a list which will curtail rights which subsequently becomes impossible to correct? ……………

  20. I’m just surprised that there is such a thing as a Paris-style rifle! Where can I get one of these Parisian plinkers, and what kind of ammo does it shoot?

  21. You guys are relying on far-left, anti-Western, pro-jihadist writers, an outdated report, and a handful of extreme cases to bash a terrorist watchlist system that’s probably pretty accurate. You’re so obsessed with putting guns into everyone’s hands that you’re yelling molon labe at Democrats when they want to ban terrorists from legally owning and carrying firearms. And when another “Muslim-American Patriot” walks into a gun store and legally buys an AR-15 and a Glock 17 in order to carry out a mass shooting, I’m sure that you guys will blame the Democrats for supporting gun-free zones. Thanks for reminding me of why I hate conservatives. And I say that not as a liberal, but as someone who’s genuinely far right.

    • Wouldn’t matter if the list was 99.99% accurate. You cannot deprive someone of protected civil liberties without due process. Even assuming the people in power had our best interests at heart (I’m willing to believe that of most law enforcement, if not their bosses), it would only be a matter of time before someone comes along to abuse the power. History has some very harsh lessons for us in that regard. As the old saying goes, if you tear down the law to strike at the Devil, there will be nothing to protect you when the Devil turns on you.

      • Yes, due process is the issue. Even if it were 100% accurate and flawlessly maintained by a psychic who could perfectly distinguish who was dangerous or not, a person cannot be deprived of liberty or property without due process. If there’s evidence that someone is dangerous enough to disarm, let that be heard and a determination made openly about that evidence. If it holds up, then the consequences can follow. Imposing consequences based on secret evidence is deeply, fundamentally un-American.

    • …terrorist watchlist system that’s probably pretty accurate. PROBABLY is the important part here. How would you know? It’s secret! Who decides which names get on this list? How can you get your name erased if it was included by mistake? Or by some mischievous conservative hater? Other guys addressed the due process. There is also another question.
      If we have real intel about dangerous terrorist, why should we stop at blocking him from legally buying firearms? Like it is the only way he can hurt us. Why don’t we see to it that such a dangerous person can’t move freely amongst population?

    • Jihadis with guns represent a far smaller threat to Americans than politicians with laws. Decent people who care at all about freedom, would never, ever, trade another human being’s right to arm themselves as they best see fit, for some government lackey’s right to ban them from doing so. As someone “far right”, you should know that.

    • Oh look, a “genuinely far right” hard statist in favor of unaccountable police state. That category has done enough damage in the past that it even got its own label (the one it has invented for itself, conveniently). It’s called fascism.

  22. Wait, so now Reid is calling the Due Process clause to the Constitution an “NRA loophole” that we need to close?

  23. By the numbers.

    No guns for felons. Between 18 and 20 million Americans with felony convictions.

    No guns for domestic abusers. 3 million restraining orders in effect.

    No guns for drug users. 14 million frequent users of marijuana.

    No guns for the mentally impaired. How many vets and social security recipients did President Hope and Change try to add to the NICs database?

    There are 312 million people in this country. A little more than 200 million of our citizens are 21 years of age or older. If we add the 1 million names on the Terrorist Watch list we can deny 2nd amendment rights to a solid 20% of the adult population.

    These vile fascists are having more success at banning gun owners than they will ever have banning guns.

  24. Sounds great. Put everyone on an arbitrary secret Terrorist Watch List and deny all rights to everyone. Government high fives all around!

  25. Harry Reid is a domestic terrorist against the Constitution of the United States and should be delt with accordingly.

  26. The New South Wales police have a category on the police database called “Persons of Special Interest” which includes convicted criminals, suspected criminals, associates of criminals, and ALL licensed firearm owners. It’s (not) nice to be associated with the former groups purely on my sporting affiliation.

  27. Am I wrong but in order to be a terrorist watch list, don’t you have to have committed or conspired to commit an act of terrorism? If these people are on a terror watch list,why aren’t they being charged and why aren’t they locked up? I’m almost sure that another civil right is being violated by putting someone on a list with no evidence.

    • We used to have ‘enemy of the people’ where I came from. If you weren’t careful about what you say and who can hear you, made waves and became inconvenient to The Party, they would call you an enemy of the people and deal with you accordingly. Mostly in uranium ore mines.
      It saddens me to see my childhood dream land of freedom I call home today getting closer and closer to this ugly memory.

  28. So…does that mean I can’t have a rifle that holds more than 10 baguettes? Or pistols that hold more than seven cigarretes? Or any weapons equipped with deodorant?

  29. “So why do gun control activists continue to push for this list — dangerously inaccurate and laughably easy to be listed even if you’re completely innocent — to be used to block gun purchases? The simple reason is that they care more about the need to “do something” to “feel safer” than protecting the rights of American citizens.”

    No, more opportunity for discretionary punishment. And related graft.

  30. Wasn’t Ted Kennedy on the list for a while and it took quite a while to get off the list??? And he was in Congress, now if this was us, then NEVER off the list….

  31. Gun /Weapons can create violence or terrorism, but apart from that the emotional feelings like differences among the citizens or feelings like jealousy, hatred, suppression, domestic violence, unending labour, freedom with restrictions, etc., is more dangerous. To put the end for violence or terrorism, one should need to respect the beliefs of everyone and need to make the society to live by everyone.

  32. To put the end for violence or terrorism, one should need to respect the beliefs of everyone and need to make the society to live by everyone.

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