Congressional Democrats took the unprecedented step of conducting an actual sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday, demanding that Republican leaders allow votes on gun control legislation.
But this unusually bold and moving tactic was undercut by the fact that its chief goal is a political gimmick that would do little to stop gun violence, while expanding the use of a deeply flawed anti-terror watchlist.
While sit-in participants are also advocating for expanded background checks and an assault weapons ban, their primary call to action is for a vote on a measure that would ban gun sales to people listed on a federal government watchlist – a move clearly designed more for its political potency than for its effectiveness.
And the government’s consolidated terrorist watchlist is notoriously unreliable. It has ensnared countless innocent Americans, including disabled war veterans and members of Congress. Nearly half of the people on these watch lists were designated as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation,” according to documents obtained by The Intercept in 2014. 1226
Indeed, many of those involved in today’s sit-in have themselves recognized these problems in the past. In a 2014 letter addressed to the Department of Homeland Security, lawmakers including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the civil rights hero leading today’s sit-in, complained that the current process for appealing designation on the federal no-fly lists “provides no effective means of redress for unfair or incorrect designations.”
Some members exaggerated the measure’s potential impact. “If the laws had been in place that the Senate tried to pass in the horrific tragedy of Orlando, there would not be 49 dead. If the laws had been in place — no fly, no buy,” Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, said. “Let’s do this for the victims of the Pulse night club in Orlando,” intoned Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore.
But even though Orlando shooter Omar Mateen was reportedly once on the terrorist watch list maintained by the FBI, he was removed from the list before the tragic mass shooting.
Talking Points Memo - American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday sent a letter to senators laying out its opposition to the latest legislation up for consideration, a proposal by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) that would bar anyone on certain federal government watchlists from buying guns. “The ACLU strongly urges you to vote against the Collins Amendment because it uses the error prone and unfair watchlist system, along with vague and overbroad terms, as a predicate for a proceeding to deny a firearms permit,” ACLU legislative leaders wrote, saying reliance on the lists “would open the door to arbitrary and discriminatory government action.”