In the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, there is a major push about what to do over gun control. And while some of the discussion is repetitive, what about the simple idea that if someone is on the FBI watch list, they should not be allowed to buy a gun? Is it fair? Does it make sense?
This is a Reality Check you won’t see anywhere else.
Donald Trump says he will meet with the NRA to to talk about the idea that if someone is on the FBI’s terror watch list or on the no-fly list, they should not be allowed to purchase a gun. Senate Democrats have been filibustering, pushing for a new bill that would do just that. In order to end that filibuster, Senate Republicans have now said they will meet with Senate Democrats to talk about this idea of not allowing someone on the no-fly list to buy a gun.
But before we have that discussion, we need to talk about the facts of what happened in Orlando. The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people this weekend and wounded at least 53 others. Mateen and the time had an AR-15 assault rifle as well as a 9mm semi-automatic handgun. He bought the two guns in the last 12 days from a gun store not far from his Florida home.
So here are the facts: Omar Mateen was under FBI investigation for connections to terrorism two separate times in 2013 and 2014. During that time, the government placed him in the Terrorist Screening Database, more commonly known as the FBI’s terror watch list.
He was placed there because of comments he made that were deemed incendiary, but he didn’t commit any violent acts. After being interviewed by the FBI, Mateen explained that he had made those comments out of anger. After some time, the FBI determined that Mateen hadn’t broken any laws, he hadn’t committed a crime, and so he was removed from the list.
Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Republicans in the Senate and Democrats are all on the same page. But let’s go deeper because the major question becomes: how does someone end up on the terror watch list? What specific criteria is used?
The Intercept published a 166-page document outlining the government’s guidelines for placing people on an expansive network of terror watch lists, including the no-fly list. The investigation revealed extremely vague and loosely defined criteria, developed by 19 federal agencies, were used to determine who makes it on the list. In 2013, 468,749 watch list nominations were submitted to the National Counterterrorism Center. It rejected only 1 percent of the recommendations.
All you need to do in order to get on the watch list is to raise a reasonable suspicion. There doesn’t need to be any evidence against you of being a terrorist; it could be something you post to Facebook that is considered “terrorist-y,” or if you just look “terrorist-y,” or if you are just unlucky.
So what you need to know is that with over 1.5 million people right now on that terror watch list— and a lot of them don’t even know they’re on it— and with the criteria for getting on that being vague and secretive, the list doesn’t make sense as a way to prevent terror attacks. A federal judge has ruled that the government must develop a new process under which individuals can challenge their inclusion on the no-fly list. The judge also found the current no-fly process “wholly ineffective.”
To deny Americans a constitutional right to buy guns based on vague criteria, instituted in secret, with no way to challenge it— and by the way, a system that would have missed the Orlando shooter and it missed the Boston Marathon bombers— while it may sound like a solution coming from politicians, it actually isn’t.
That’s Reality Check- let’s talk about this on Twitter.