No Fly No Buy is a Nice Slogan but it’s not Good Policy

As the title suggests, I am not in favor of the new “no buy no fly policy” that is being touted by Progressives as a means to curtail gun violence. In this context the term “gun violence” must be specified. They are not talking about urban gun violence that happens in places like Chicago and Baltimore on a regular basis. Rather, they are talking about the mass shootings that have been occurring with startling regularity. The last such case is the mass shooting at the Pulse in Orlando. But as we know there is a too long list of these mass shootings that seem to occur on a much more frequent basis in America than in any other advanced nation. So the real question is how do we limit homegrown acts of terror? The point of No Fly No Buy is if a person is on a “No Fly” list because of suspicion of terror, then that person should be deprived of their constitutionally sanctioned right to bear arms.

I have several problems with this approach but first I will add that I am not a gun enthusiast, I don’t own a gun, and I was raised in a household where we were not even allowed to play with water guns. I am in support of a ban on assault weapons although I do have some concerns with the application and enforcement of that policy as well.

My main concern with the no fly no buy policy is that unless I am mistaken it involves taking away a person’s constitutional rights based on the fact that they are on a list created by the FBI. While I trust the FBI, I am very skeptical about the means by which one can get on such a list. What actions must a person take for the FBI to name them suspicious and put them on the no fly list? Will said person be alerted to their status? What if they are put on the list in error, how do they appeal their status? Can a person be put on the list and taken off? Who develops the criteria for the no fly list?

I have no answers for these questions and therefore I must assume that entry on the no fly list is left to the feelings, biases, and evidence that can be compiled by the FBI. But again where is the oversight? Since the no fly list is essentially a list of “suspicious persons,” it doesn’t have to conform to any standards of due process. It is a tool used by the FBI to keep track of people whose actions may turn out to be criminal and as such I assume it has been effective. However, there is a stark difference between the FBI having an investigation tool based on educated guesses, and using those standards to deny a person due process in taking away a very specifically delineated right.

We can argue about whether a person should have a right to bear arms, we can argue about how far that right extends, or we can even argue about what the spirit of the law is, but no one can seriously doubt that the constitution grants that right.  Furthermore if we adopt no fly no buy the way it has been advertised, we’re not only talking about taking away people’s right to bear arms, we’re also talking about taking away people’s right to due process because you can’t take away a person’s rights without having first charged and convicted them of a crime. Adopting No Fly No Buy would take away a person’s rights based on evidence which is not presented to the public and which will be subject to all the prejudices and biases of whoever is in charge of the list.

As a minority I have to be particularly vigilant when citizens start petitioning to put people on lists to take away their rights based on evidence that is not available to the public. We know that law enforcement often engages in racial profiling in order to do their jobs and we know that there is always a possibility that racial profiling or other evidence gathering procedures can lead to conclusions that are far from the truth and have potentially disproportionately damaging effects on minorities. Given today’s political climate, how can we be certain that American Muslims will not be disproportionately stripped of their right to bear arms based on specious evidence? Moreover, how do we know that such a list won’t later be targeted at individuals who are judged as high security risks (such as young black men who happen to live in urban areas and who may or may not identify as Muslim?) How do we know that such a policy will stop at the denial of the right to bear arms? How can we truly guarantee that such a law or policy would not have disproportionate effects on minorities when there are so many laws that started out well-meaning but ended up incarcerating or otherwise devastating people in minority communities?

This is a slippery slope that America would be wise to avoid, either ban guns for everyone or don’t ban guns at all.

Feel free to leave comments about how you feel about this, I am interested in hearing all the different points of view.