President Obama and top congressional Democrats want to forbid people on the “no-fly” list from buying guns, and they’re pushing the issue again after the terrorist attack in Orlando.
Democrats have had difficulty explaining the proposal, which has issues when it comes to due process:
People don’t know they’re on the list until they’re blocked from flying, and it’s very difficult to get off the list, even if you’re innocent. In addition, the way that people are on the list means they aren’t able to challenge their status.
Nevertheless, they have pushed for the measure, launching a filibuster of a spending bill and even courting Donald Trump’s support.
But there are many ways that an innocent American can end up on the no-fly list, and according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), more than a third of the Americans on various secretive government watch lists are innocent or have used outdated information.
Here are five of the ways one could be grounded — and potentially have their right to purchase a gun revoked.
1) Posting things the government doesn’t like onto social media.
Tweeting and posting to Facebook could contribute to getting oneself landed on the no-fly list. According to the 2013 document:
“[P]ostings on social media sites… should not be discounted merely because of the manner in which it was received.”
As the Huffington Post notes, the document contains language to protect Americans “engaging solely in constitutionally protected activities,” meaning that one can freely express themselves, pending no other suspicions.
2) Someone thinks that you are a terrorist — or maybe just does not like you.
If a fellow American so chooses, that individual can submit names they deem to be suspicious, which the federal government must consider until they can determine the legitimacy of the tipster.
3) The government made a mistake.
The federal government is not perfect, and can often make mistakes. Sometimes, those mistakes have resulted in lawsuits.
In 2004, an FBI agent erroneously marked California resident Rahinah Ibrahim as a potential terrorist, barring him from boarding a plane in the United States. Years later, Ibrahim, a doctoral student at Stanford University, ultimately sued the federal government. But it didn’t stop there.
The Obama administration cited “state secrets privilege,” according to Wired, which served as an attempted coverup of the clerical error. In 2014, she won the case after a judge ruled the federal government violated her due process rights.
4) You have the same name as a potential terrorist.
When an individual is on the no-fly list and their name is rather common, it can result in confusion for an otherwise technology-challenged federal government.
A 2006 report on “60 Minutes” detailed several men named Robert Johnson. Those men faced hurdles in their attempts to travel by air because a Robert Johnson in Toronto, Canada, was convicted of planning the bombings of multiple buildings, including a theater and a Hindu temple, Fox News noted.
5) Traveling the globe.
If an American likes to travel to exotic locations, they too can be placed on the no-fly list. Areas of the planet that are particularly rife with terrorist activities set off red flags, which can complicate one’s good standing in air travel.
While the average American doesn’t travel to terrorist-heavy countries, many immigrants wish to visit family members. In addition, some professions require overseas travel to dangerous parts of the world, such as journalists and government contractors.
Even after one sees a fair trial and is acquitted of any charges, the database of names can still flag Americans and place them on the list, pending any establishment of “suspicion.”
As you can see from the above issues, even well-intentioned ideas can cause serious problems for law-abiding citizens, and for gun owners (or aspirational gun owners), that issue has gotten even closer to home.