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'Let’s not pretend Republicans suddenly care about the due process rights that they have spent the last decade and a half attempting to destroy.' (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

It's Messed Up for Democrats to Use the No-Fly List to Push for Gun Laws

And Republicans pushing back by citing due process after years trying to squelch it is no less hypocritical

Trevor Timm

In the wake of yet another mass shooting in the US, Republicans managed to vote down a bill that would bar people on the no-fly list from buying guns. It’s hard to tell what is more sickening: that Republicans will refuse to vote for literally any gun control legislation despite the country’s mass-murder epidemic, or that Democrats are trying to use the unconstitutional no-fly list, which makes a mockery of due process, to force the issue.

“People have due process rights in this country,” Republican House speaker Paul Ryan said in explaining his party’s opposition to the vote, apparently with a straight face. He went on to say there shouldn’t be a rush to pass legislation at the risk of “infringing upon the rights of law-abiding citizens,” which in almost all other situations is the party’s modus operandi.

Funny, I don’t remember hearing a word of protest from party leaders when tens of thousands of people were added to the list and barred from flying during the Bush years – and in fact, they were loudly cheering as the Bush administration tore down all sorts of due process rights in the aftermath of 9/11.

The Republicans supposed newfound devotion to due process is nothing more than a naked political ploy to avoid passing any gun control, no matter how inconsequential. This is the party that invented the no-fly list – it was a concoction of the Bush administration, just like a series of policies that did more damage to the principle of due process than anything since FDR’s Japanese internment camps during the second world war.

For years, Republicans have continually demanded (with much success) that the Obama administration not give constitutional due process rights to alleged terrorists, including the reading of Miranda rights, access to lawyers and trials in civilian courts. It’s the party that has proudly endorsed indefinite detention of Guantánamo detainees, drone strikes on Americans overseas and outright torture on countless detainees who were not, and have not, been convicted of a crime.

Currently, the party’s leading candidate for president has proposed immediately removing 11 million people from the country with a “deportation force” without a second thought to due process, put all Muslims in a mandatory database and potentially and arbitrarily start closing mosques that he deems too radical for his taste.

If Republicans want to vote down this largely symbolic and hypocritical gun control legislation by Democrats, that’s their prerogative. But let’s not pretend that they suddenly care about the due process rights that they have spent the last decade and a half attempting to destroy.

At the same time, we should all acknowledge that the no-fly list is an abomination, and it’s shameful that the Democratic party is not only defending its use but trying to further legitimize and intrench it into America’s laws. On the surface, Republicans are right about one thing: the list is a due-process nightmare that is riddled with mistakes and has ensnared countless innocent people over the past decade and a half.

A federal judge recently ruled the process for finding out if you’re on the list and any attempt to get off it unconstitutional, given its Kafkaesque procedures and extreme secrecy, which make it impossible to challenge. The administration has supposedly been incrementally changing its procedures in response to that court order and other lawsuits brought by innocent people who have had their rights violated, but they have only doing so while kicking and screaming.

I am not arguing that Congress shouldn’t pass more stringent gun control laws. Even the gun-loving US supreme court has indicated there are plenty of ways to do so without violating the Second Amendment. But we should stop pretending that this legislation will come close to stopping the mass murder problem we have in this country.

How many of the hundreds of mass shooters in this country were on the no-fly list to begin with? While there is some political usefulness in showing just how in bed the Republican party is with gun lobbyists, using an awful tool like the no-fly list shouldn’t be the way to do it.


Trevor Timm

Trevor Timm

Trevor Timm is a co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He is a writer, activist, and legal analyst who specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian and has also contributed to The Atlantic, Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, Harvard Law and Policy Review, PBS MediaShift, and Politico.

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