Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The no-fly list and the no-gun list

watchlist/blacklist flow chart
[The proposed No-Fly, No Buy law currently under debate in Congress would add the Terrorist Screening Database as a third source (yellow arrow at center right of flow chart) of entries in the "No-Gun" list, in addition to Federal and state felony convictions and certain misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. Everything else on this diagram already exists and would remain the same. Click the image above for a larger version of the flow chart, or click here for a full-page PDF with a key to the acronyms.]

Last month, some (Democratic Party) members of Congress held a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives to try to pressure their (Republican Party) colleagues to agree to allow a vote on what was described as a "gun control" bill. The sit-in ended after the House adjourned for its 4th of July holiday without bringing the bill to a vote. But the bill remains pending as Congress reconvenes.

I'm a pacifist. I support gun control. Having guns around doesn't make me feel safer, no matter who has them. I've never owned or used a firearm. I don't want, and don't knowingly allow, any guns in my home, for any reason. Speaking only for myself, and not for any of the organizations with which I'm associated, I would vote to repeal the Second Amendment rather than trying to play games with its language about "a well-regulated militia".

I'm a firm believer in nonviolent direct action and a supporter of extra-legal tactics like sit-ins as a useful and often essential way to bring about political change, including revolutionary change, with or without the cooperation of the government.

So why do I think that that the Congressional sit-in was at best misguided, and that this is a dangerous bill that would set an even more dangerous precedent, regardless of the good intentions of some of its supporters?

The bill at issue in the House, like the similar bill still pending in the Senate that I wrote about last year in the Identity Project blog, has been described as "No-Fly, No-Buy". It would prohibit anyone on the U.S. no-fly list, and possibly also anyone listed in the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) as a "suspected" terrorist, terrorist supporter, or terrorist sympathizer, from buying a firearm.

To put it another way, these bills would add everyone on the no-fly list or in the government's "suspected terrorist" file to the no-gun list.

This is a people-control measure, not a gun-control measure. It is one more step away from punishment of criminal acts and toward pre-crime policing and imposition of sanctions based on predictions and blacklists. And it would do nothing to improve the "no-gun list" that we already have.

Yes, the US already has a "no-gun list". I'm on it, for all the wrong reasons, along with 25 million or more other people.

Given that the whole point of the "No-Fly, No-Buy" bill is to expand the no-gun list, it's remarkable how little discussion there has been of the current no-gun list, who is on it, or how it would change. Many people seem unaware that there is a "No-Gun" list, even though it has 5,000 names on it already for every one that would be added from the "known and suspected terrorists" (KST) file if the "No-Fly, No-Buy" bill becomes law.

Most of the people on the no-gun list are former felons. A Federal law, 18 U.S.C. ยง 922(g), makes it a Federal felony for anyone who has ever in their life been convicted of any state or Federal felony to be in possession of any firearm. If you're a felon and a firearm is found in a place where you could have had access to it -- even if it wasn't yours, it was in someone else's house or vehicle, and you never touched it -- you could be found guilty of being in "constructive possession" of a firearm.

(If you do have a gun in your home, workplace, or vehicle, you have an ethical obligation to tell anyone you offer a ride or invite into the building about it, so that felons will be able to choose to stay away. Otherwise, you are putting your friends' freedom at risk, since you never know which of your friends might have been convicted of a felony you don't know about, and might not want to risk being in a place with guns. Never, ever, bring any firearm -- even if it is licensed and concealed -- into the presence of someone you know has been convicted of a felony, or who you don;t know well enough to be sure they aren't a felon. Treat any space where a felon is or might be present as a gun-free zone. If you don't, they are liable to treat you as someone who is trying to set them up to be sent back to prison or pressured into becoming a snitch.)

"Being a felon in possession of a firearm" is one of the most common Federal crimes, comprising more than 1 in 15 of all Federal convictions. It's also a serious crime: the average sentence for being a felon in possession of a firearm is more than six years in prison.

Because it's so easy to set an ex-con up for prosecution for being a felon in possession -- just get them to go for a ride in a car or come to party in a house where there's a gun, and then get someone to claim that they knew the gun was there -- it's one of the threats most commonly used to induce people who've gone straight to return to their old criminal lives as police informers or infiltrators.

Of course, many of the people on the no-gun list were convicted of nonviolent felonies: drug offenses, conspiracy, financial crimes, etc.

How many people are on the no-gun list? As of 2010, the best estimate was that almost 20 million people in the USA had been convicted of a felony. I've been unable to find an estimate of how many additional people are on the no-gun list because of convictions for misdemeanor domestic violence. But given the prevalence of domestic violence and the continued growth of the prison-industrial complex, I suspect that there are at least 25 million people on the no-gun list today.

The U.S. government's blacklists of "suspected" terrorists, supporters, and sympathizers are out of control. According to information provided in response to questions from to Sen. Dianne Feinstein -- the Senator from Silicon Valley, and one of the strongest supporters in Congress of database and algorithm-driven dragnet surveillance, profiling, and precrime policing -- as of 17 June 2016 there were 1.5 million names in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), from which the no-fly list and other blacklists ("watchlists") are derived. But most of the people on those blacklists are neither U.S. citizens nor U.S. residents, and as "nonimmigrant aliens" are already prohibited by Federal law from buying guns in the US, in most cases. There are fewer than 5,000 U.S. persons (citizens and/or residents) who are listed in the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) and would be added to the no-gun list if the "No-Fly, No-Buy" bill is enacted into law.

So what Congress is talking about doing is adding fewer than 5,000 names to a no-gun list that already has about 25 million names, or less than one new name for every 5,000 names that are on the list today.

Of all the people in the country who aren't already on the no-gun list, are the 5,000 US citizens and residents on these watchlists/blacklists the most dangerous ones whom it would be most important to keep from (legally) buying guns or other deadly weapons? Unlikely.

Motor vehicles kill more people than guns, year after year. And while recidivism for murder is very low -- it's typically a once-in-a-lifetime crime of passion -- recidivism for vehicular homicide, which is typically committed by alcoholics or people addicted to and under the influence of other drugs, is much higher. So if we were to try to engage in predictive policing to deny likely killers access to weapons, a better place to start would be with motor vehicles, not firearms. But there's no Federal motor vehicle law comparable to the "felon in possession of a firearm" law. I'm barred for life from having any guns because I refused to agree to pick up a gun and use it at the government's command as a soldier. But in California, where I live, you can be convicted of vehicular homicide, keep ownership of your car, and get your license to drive back after just three years.

There's been some justifiable and appropriate criticism of the secret and arbitrary character of decisions to put people on so-called "watchlists" (more accurately, "blacklists") and their use as a basis for similarly arbitrary "No-Gun" decisions, including from the ACLU and from law professor Jeffrey Kahn, who testified as an expert witness for Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim in her attempt to get off the no-fly list.

Some people who share my antipathy to guns may say, "So what if these decisions are arbitrary? The fewer people who have guns, the better."

But the problem is with blacklists and pre-crime policing in general, not that the government needs to hire more reliable precogs or program its computers with better algorithms for predicting which people are likely to commit future acts of terrorism.

Do you really want the FBI to be able to decide, in secret, which people are and aren't allowed to do certain things? And if they put you on a blacklist because you once "sympathized with" or provided support or wrote propaganda endorsing the demon of the day -- "terrorism", Communism, anarchism, obstructing government-ordered mobilization for war -- do you then want the government to be allowed to use that blacklisting as the generic basis for an arbitrary range of additional administrative sanctions against you? Not because you are even alleged to have committed any crime, but because you have been designated as a person with fewer rights because of what some government agent, based on one-sided secret files of "derogatory" information, has secretly decided that they suspect you might do in the future?

We've seen that movie before, over and over again in the history of American witch-hunting, and it's not a pretty picture. I do not want to go back to the good old days of Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover, when getting blacklisted by the FBI because you once signed a petition in support of a group later designated as "subversive" could lead to being denied a US passport, fired from government or private employment, subjected to electronic and "black-bag job" surveillance, and jailed if you wouldn't become an informer against your similarly-situated friends.

We're far too close to all of that already in the "War on Terror" on the home front. Don't believe me? Try reading some alarmist Cold War screed -- something from the oeuvre of J. Edgar Hoover and his ghost writers would be a good place to start -- while substituting "terrorism" for "Communism", "Islam" for "Marxism/Leninism", and the Koran for the Communist Manifesto or any other cited Marxist work. In recent years, environmental, animal-rights, and anti-war activists have all been labelled "domestic terrorists".

The No-Fly list is bad enough without turning it into an all-purpose excuse for the government to say "No" to whatever you want to do.

Personally, I think the person who is most dangerous with a gun in their hands is the person who has a gun in their hands. I have more confidence in my ability to predict that if more people have guns, more people will kill themselves or others with them, than I have confidence in even the most perceptive person's ability to predict which people will kill people if they are allowed to buy guns legally.

I'd rather Congress focus on controlling guns, which might be possible, than on trying to control people on the basis of predictions, which isn't. Let's start working to repeal the Second Amendment. In the meantime let's outlaw weapons that are only useful for killing people and not for hunting, starting with handguns, assault weapons, and guns with, or capable of being fitted with, large magazines.

I'd support a Congressional sit-in in support of real gun control. Real, although limited, proposals for gun control are pending in Congress. But the person who claims to represent my district in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, has reportedly used her position as minority leader to block efforts to bring a gun control bill to a vote, choosing instead to channel grassroots desire for gun control into the people control "No Fly, No Buy" measure.

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 6 July 2016, 07:11 ( 7:11 AM) | TrackBack (0)
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