Should People on the Terror Watch List Be Allowed to Buy Guns?

Adam Bates,

Release Date
November 14, 2016


Civil Liberties

Even Hillary and Trump agreed that people on the Terror Watch List shouldn’t be able to buy a gun, but are they asking the right question? Adam Bates, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice believes that if people understood how individuals are added to these lists, they’d be more skeptical of supporting such measures.

2016 Presidential Election: Terrorism in America (video): Don Boudreaux explains the different sides of the debate on how to fight terrorism.
Freedom of Speech: How the Paris Terror Attack (2015) Could Curb Human Rights in 90 Seconds (video): Chris Coyne warns that the reaction to the Paris terror attacks is curbing human rights.
Foreign Policy Explained, Ep. 1: Government Surveillance: We’re Being Watched (video): Abby Hall explains that our interventionist foreign policy has led to government surveillance of American citizens.

Got another question from Liz McCaffrey. Liz thanks for the question.
Both Clinton and Trump argued in the debate that people on the no-fly list should not be able to buy guns. What do you think of that policy? I’ll just point out this was a rare point of agreement between the two candidates last night. They both said that the no-fly list should also serve as a no buys guns list. What you think about that?
Adam Bates:
This issue has created a lot of strange bedfellows I think. I just spoke last week actually on the hill at an event hosted by the Arab American Institute. I was seated next to a lawyer from the ACLU which is not known for its ardent defense of the Second Amendment. We were all there arguing this is discriminatory, this is arbitrary, this is ineffective. You do have this weird strange bedfellows here.
Hillary said that if you’re unsafe to fly, you are unsafe to own a gun. That’s not necessarily counter intuitive. Can you explain why being not allowed to fly, you should still be able to have a gun? That on its face might seem like a ridiculous idea. If I can’t go on a plane because it’s too dangerous, why should I be able to buy a gun?
Adam Bates:
Sure. There two points here. One, I think there is a good logical argument. There is a valid logical argument there. President Obama has said the same thing. If I can keep you off an airplane, why can I keep you from buying a gun? I think that’s a valid argument. My push back is, maybe we should question why you can keep them off an airplane. I think if people knew more and dove in a little bit on how are our watch listing process works, they would be more skeptical of these claims. There is a huge gap between terrorist, which is what advocates of this policy will say. We’re preventing terrorists from buying guns. Terrorist and person on the terror watch list, those are two very different categories of people. The terror watch list … the way this works is a federal agent nominates you for inclusion …
Oh thank you so much for the nomination. I really appreciate it.
Adam Bates:
Unfortunately, you are not given notice. You’re not given a hearing. You’re not given the evidence against you. You’re not given the opportunity to challenge the government agent or any witnesses against you. This is completely devoid of process. What we’ve seen with these lists that have grown to more than a million names in the case of some of the tide database, this is exactly what happens when there’s no process. The list is just ballooned.
People like Ted Kennedy were on the no-fly list. Congressman John Lewis was on the no-fly list. Dozens of people named Robert Johnson were on the no-fly list. When you have the watch list, the idea that terrorists shouldn’t buy guns I think it’s a universal agreement. The idea that because you’re on this watch list that you’re a terrorist, we know that to be widely inaccurate. I think that the real problem with these proposals. That’s why you have groups like the ACLU and the Council on American Islamic relations, in addition to libertarian and gun rights groups, saying this is wrong. I was very concerned about that single point of bipartisan agreement last night.