Bills Would Add Watch Lists to NICS Checks

There are two competing proposals being voted on by the U.S. Senate this week, both of which involve using the suspected terrorist watch list, officially known as the Terrorist Screening Database, to ban individuals from buying firearms.

This story from fivethirtyeight.com says neither piece of legislation is likely to pass, simply because so few gun deaths overall come from terrorist attacks.

But the database itself is gaining new prominence, after first being pushed as a gun control measure by President Obama last year, even though the accuracy and usefulness of the terrorist watch list has long been debated.

The list was created after the 9/11 terror attacks when U.S. intelligence agencies combined about a dozen lists of suspected terrorists into one database, administered by the FBI.

There are about 800,000 names on the list, as of September 2014, of which only a small fraction are Americans. The story says that the no-fly list, which is a subset of the overall terror watch list, includes a few thousand names, though the lists are secret and not available to the public.

Another large problem is that individuals are added to the list in a rather arbitrary way.

In 2014, the ACLU cited secret documents released by the journalism site The Intercept, when the list began to grow substantially, saying there are no clear standards by which to determine who is placed in a database that can be used for religious and racial profiling, according to the story.

There is also no provision or process in place for American citizens to contest their possible inclusion on the list, because of its secrecy.

Another issue with the list being used for NICS checks, raised recently by the NRA, points out that any such list would include individuals by mistake (and currently does), through one kind of error or another, and there is no recourse for those individuals.

A statement from the NRA says "due process protection should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watch list to be removed."

The Democratic proposal currently before the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would give the Department of Justice the authority to delay or deny gun sales to people now on the terror watch list or anyone investigated for terror connections in the previous five years, which could include people such as family members of a person once questioned by the FBI.

The Republican legislation, from Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), would limit the government to a 72-hour period to go to court to block a gun sale.

A third "compromise" bill being circulated by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) would prohibit sales to people on the no-fly list, but not on the much broader terror watch list, the story says.

Some have argued that individuals, once they know they are on a terror watch list that prevents them from buying a gun legally, will turn to an illegal means of purchasing a firearm for ill intent.