Editor’s note: The following is a column written by Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole, who represents the state’s 4th District. It first appeared on his website, https://cole.house.gov/
As Americans, our Constitution and Bill of Rights guarantee us certain unalienable rights that are the foundation of a free society. Common sense dictates, however, that individuals who perpetrate acts of terror against their fellow citizens must necessarily forfeit some of those rights. But we as a society should be very hesitant to encroach on any American’s constitutional rights simply because their name shows up on some list of suspected wrongdoers.
The United States was permanently changed when the terrorist attacks happened on September 11, 2001, and it altered how our government responded to threats against Americans at home or abroad. President Bush established the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that the U.S. is adequately prepared when safeguarding our borders and our citizens. In addition, the FBI and the Justice Department stepped up their security practices, and introduced new ways to screen potential terrorists and thwart potential acts of terror before they can be executed. These agencies are tasked with the responsibility to be our nation’s watchdog, and are expected to be thorough in their performance. With an ever-changing society, the standards of the watch lists they maintain are constantly shifting as well, leaving room for error.
The lists that the FBI, Justice Department, and Department of Homeland Security maintain are extremely vulnerable to changing tides in screening procedures. Post 9/11, the Terrorist Screening Database, also known as the Terrorist Watch List, was created to keep track of any individual suspected of terrorism or of having ties to terrorism. Currently, the Terror Watch List has over 400,000 names on it. But more than 97% of the names on that list are foreigners who cannot legally purchase a firearm in the United States. Furthermore, the list is divided into subsets that are the No-Fly List and the Selectee List.
It is a well-known fact that these lists are not accurate, and just about every American who flies knows of someone who has mistakenly been placed on the list. Some of the more high-profile names who have appeared on this list include the late Senator Ted Kennedy, civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, and Congressman Tom McClintock of California. In all their cases it took several months to get their names removed from the list. And these men were powerful members of Congress. How long do you think it takes for an average person to get his name off the list?
It is wrong to deny any American their constitutional rights based on their being wrongly listed on the No Fly List. The Democratic Members of Congress who staged their sit-in stunt to try and force a vote on gun control most likely simply believe that no American should own a gun. Trying to exploit the Orlando massacre to advance their anti-Second Amendment agenda is shameful. I would point out also that the terrorist who committed the crime in Orlando was not on the No Fly List, further evidence of its inadequacy as an effective tool for identifying terrorists.
We can and must be more diligent in keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists. And we can do so while protecting the Constitutional rights of law abiding Americans. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has introduced sensible legislation that will expand the scope of how our agencies prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons, obtaining passports, and launching any sort of attack. It will give the government 72 hours to prove that an individual is indeed a terror threat and block that individual from purchasing a firearm. It ultimately ensures that no weapon of any kind can get in the hands of any terrorist, while protecting Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens.
A free society like the United States must constantly seek a balance between our freedom and our security. Those who wish to cavalierly deny people their Second Amendment rights in the name of security have a flawed sense of that balance as well as a mistaken belief that their proposals would significantly increase our security in the first place. The increasing wave of violence in this country requires thoughtful, complex solutions. Trampling the Constitution cannot be a part of it.