NY Times: Push for Gun Curbs Tied to No-Fly List Puts Republicans on the Spot

WASHINGTON — The bloody attack in San Bernardino, Calif., last week revived fears about threats from groups such as the Islamic State in America and also fused two fraught policy debates central to the presidential contest: gun control and how far to go in the fight against terrorism.

“What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon?” Mr. Obama asked in a prime-time address to the nation. “This is a matter of national security.”

Jeb Bush and his wife, Columba, in Miami on Saturday. Mr. Bush said that the no-fly list “is not a list that you can be certain of.” Credit Ryan Stone for The New York Times

The proposal, which has divided lawmakers along party lines, failed in the Senate last week, with just one Democrat and one Republican persuaded to switch sides on the issue. The four senators who are running for president — Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz — all voted against the measure.

Mr. Rubio, of Florida, cast the idea as another example of Democrats’ having too much faith in government, posing a threat to due process and potentially violating the rights of law-abiding citizens.

“The majority of people on the no-fly list are oftentimes people that basically just have the same name as somebody else, who don’t belong on the no-fly list,” Mr. Rubio said on CNN on Sunday, estimating that the majority of the more than 700,000 people on the list did not belong on it. “These are everyday Americans that have nothing to do with terrorism.”

Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, agreed with Mr. Rubio. He noted that Senator Ted Kennedy had been stopped from flying on multiple occasions because of problems with such lists and suggested that relying on a no-fly list would do more to slow innocent passengers than it would to stop would-be terrorists.

“This is not a list that you can be certain of,” Mr. Bush told ABC. “The first impulse of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is to have gun control.”

Proposals to impose any restrictions on guns have been a nonstarter in Congress in recent years, despite the increasing prevalence of mass shootings. Opponents of gun control argue that gun laws will not deter people intent on committing murder, and they assert that it is safer to be armed in a dangerous world.

But not all of the Republicans seeking the White House were so certain that gun rights should apply to people who the government thinks could be plotting terrorist attacks. For candidates who have claimed that they would be the toughest against terrorists, the idea of letting homegrown radicals easily buy guns was a concern.

Taking it a step further, Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio characterized imposing gun restrictions on people on the no-fly list as an obvious measure. “Of course, it makes common sense to say that, if you’re on a terrorist watch list, you shouldn’t be able to go out and get a gun,” Mr. Kasich said over the weekend.

And Donald J. Trump, who has been leading the field in most national and state polls for months, said that he also would be open to preventing terrorism suspects from buying firearms.

“I would certainly take a look at it,” Mr. Trump told CBS on Sunday. “I’m very strongly into the whole thing with Second Amendment. But if you can’t fly, and if you have got some really bad — I would certainly look at that very hard.”

The quality of the no-fly list and the criteria for being placed on it have been subject to debate over the years as high-profile passengers and regular travelers alike have been erroneously stopped in airports.

Being removed from such lists can be a challenge. Elizabeth Pipkin, a trial lawyer in California, spent nine years in litigation to get a client, Rahinah Ibrahim, removed from the list after she was stopped from flying in 2005 at San Francisco’s airport. Ms. Ibrahim, a Malaysian citizen and Muslim who was studying at Stanford University at the time, finally had her name cleared last year.

“There is really no criteria for these lists,” Ms. Pipkin said, arguing that using them to restrict gun purchases should worry anyone who is concerned about the Second Amendment. “The government can put anyone on it for any reason. It’s not the cure-all that some might think it is.”

But studies have shown that terrorism suspects do readily have access to guns. A report to Congress from the Government Accountability Office this year found that from 2004 to 2014, more than 2,000 people on the terrorist watch list were able to buy guns from dealers in the United States. Just 190 attempted transactions were denied.

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately comment on the list, but a former senior counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, pointed out that the no-fly list is a small subset of the overall watch list of more than a million people, and that it is carefully vetted.

“The silliness of objecting to restricting gun purchases by people on the no-fly is exceeded only by how limited that step would be,” the former official said.

NY Times: Why ‘Good Guys’ With Guns Won’t Keep Us Safe

By Anna North December 7, 2015 3:17 pm

It’s become a standard response to mass shootings in America: If only more “good” Americans were armed, the “bad guys” wouldn’t have a chance to kill.

Ted Cruz said it on Monday, arguing in a radio interview that “you don’t stop the bad guys by taking away our guns. You stop the bad guys by using our guns, and a free and armed American citizenry is how we keep ourselves safe.”

But Jerry Falwell, Jr. took the argument to a new extreme on Friday, telling students at Liberty University, where he is president, that “if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walk in and kill.” He urged students to get their own permits so they too could carry concealed weapons and, apparently, shoot Muslims: “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

His comments are chilling because they imply that Americans should use concealed weapons to “end” Muslims simply on the basis of their religion. On Saturday Mr. Falwell clarified that he was referring only to Muslims who commit attacks. It remains unclear how an armed Liberty University student is supposed to decide which Muslims are about to commit acts of terror before they do so.

But Mr. Falwell’s remarks are disturbing beyond their obvious bigotry. He and Mr. Cruz conceive of an America in which every citizen is essentially obligated to carry a firearm and be ready to use deadly force at all times.

Such a system would, as Francis Clines has pointed out, create serious problems for law enforcement. If everyone at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino had been armed and firing, the result would have been an even more chaotic situation in which police would not have known whom to target. Many more lives might have been lost in the crossfire.

Our country would be far more dangerous than it is now if everyone brought a gun to every argument, as Matt Valentine illustrated at Politico in October.

Nor are ordinary citizens prepared for the responsibility of serving as de facto law enforcement. An online class is enough training to qualify for a concealed-carry permit in some states, while soldiers and police officers are trained for months or years. Even this training has not been sufficient to keep some police officers from fatally shooting unarmed black men and boys. Do we really think an online certification is enough to enable average Americans to take the law into their own hands?

And do we, as Americans, really want to do this? The responsibility to kill is an incredibly heavy one, and the consequences of exercising it can be severe. Some police departments offer therapy to officers who fire their weapons. The military has only begun to reckon with the devastating psychological toll of combat. We are not prepared for every American, all the time, to feel and behave like a police officer in a firefight or a soldier at war. We should not have to prepare for it.

One of the great benefits of a civil society is that it selects and trains people dedicated to keeping everyone safe. This group, in the United States, is not perfect. But the alternative — everyone, always, a potential killer — is far worse.