Democrats clearly see an opening in the national debate about gun control (the one they’ve been having with themselves) in a strange, very American idea that is currently on the books: People who are on the FBI terror watch list—because it’s not totally clear to the government they’re not terrorists—are still able to legally buy a gun to go hunting, or protect their home, or commit a heinous act of terrorism. President Obama has increasingly used this point to make the case for some semblance of regulation on gun ownership. Omar Mateen’s shooting at Pulse nightclub coupled with the fact that he was once on the FBI’s terror watch list has brought the issue back to the forefront.
Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern makes a strong argument that making this link to win what amounts to not much more than a moral victory when it comes to gun control sets a bad legal precedent for rights-loving Americans of all stripes. The political pull towards the watch list argument has been strong for Democrats despite the long-term hiccups, and new figures released Tuesday show why (via CNN).
An updated report by the Government Accountability Office, released Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office, shows [in 2015] individuals on the terrorist watch list were involved in background checks to purchase firearms 244 times – with 223 of those transactions, or 91%, allowed to proceed. That same 91% approval rate holds from February 2004, when the National Instant Criminal Background Check System began checking prospective gun buyers against the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s terrorist watch list. Since then, people on the watch list have had their backgrounds checked for firearms purchases 2,477 times – with 2,265 of those transactions allowed to proceed and 212 denied.
Those numbers put Republicans in the difficult position of, essentially, defending would-be terrorists’ right to buy a gun in America to perhaps commit a terrorist act. It might not be a good legal precedent, but it’s easy to see why Democrats think it’s sound politics.