Posted by Leila Elaqad on August 31, 2016 in Blog

Following the June 2016 shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, a new debate over gun control measures was sparked in Congress. The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, had previously been under FBI investigation on two separate occasions, and at one point had been placed on a government terrorist watch list. In light of this, many Democrats called for what they nicknamed, a “No Fly, No Buy” gun control bill, suggesting this measure would have prevented Mateen from purchasing the weapon he used to kill 49 innocent people in Orlando. “No Fly, No Buy” proponents advocated for measures that would deprive individuals on “the terrorist watch list” of their constitutional right to own guns. On June 22, 2016, House Democrats began a sit-in on the House floor, attempting to force a vote on a few different gun control measures. One of these was the No Fly, No Buy proposal. The Republican pushback included a specific concern about the constitutionality of depriving citizens of Second Amendment rights without due process.However, a critical piece of information was missing from the national conversation: the dubious constitutionality around the watch lists themselves, whether or not they are used as a basis for gun control efforts.

A lot of misinformation was circulated about watch lists in connection to this renewed debate on gun control in the political sphere—stigmatizing Arab and Muslim Americans in the process. Rhetoric about preventing “suspected terrorists” or “anyone on the terror watch list” from buying guns, as well as the “No Fly, No Buy” catchphrase, are incredibly misleading. The fact is, an individual’s presence on any of these watch lists does not indicate guilt of wrongdoing. Setting aside the range of opinions on arms regulations, No Fly, No Buy rhetoric sets a dangerous precedent for further violating an American’s constitutional rights on the basis of suspicion, without due process.

Additionally, because the public debate around these types of proposals fail to clarify which watch list was in fact being used as a basis for gun reform the implications on civil rights are unclear and could be egregious. It is important to insist on clarity when the watch lists are discussed as a matter of public policy, and so that we can further efforts to legislate important reforms to the deeply flawed watch listing process. Arab Americans and American Muslims should remain vigilant about our civil rights. In order to do so, we should make sure we know all the facts about the “terrorist watch lists” that are being referred to, and know exactly how they may affect American citizens.

AAI has a fact sheet on the various government maintained watch lists, and how they impact the civil rights of Americans. You can download it here.