A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday introduced legislation that would prohibit individuals on certain terrorist watch lists from purchasing a gun, an idea that has rankled civil-rights groups.
The senators revived the Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act, describing the bill as a common-sense measure that would make Americans safer, the Hill reported.
Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) said in a statement that the legislation would not infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.
"If you are considered to be too dangerous to fly on an airplane, you should not be able to buy a firearm," Collins said. "This bill is a sensible step we can take right now to reform our nation's gun laws while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans."
The bill would allow the attorney general to deny the sale of a firearm to individuals on the no-fly list, a collection of names of people who are not allowed to board commercial flights into or out of the U.S., and the selectee list, which subjects airline passengers to additional screening.
Both lists are in the FBI-led Terrorist Screening Database, which receives its information from the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), the U.S. government's central repository of "information on international terrorist identities."
Civil-rights groups and commentators across the political spectrum have criticized the bill in the past for curtailing a constitutional right through secret government lists. They say the legislation raises questions about due process, in part because the process by which one is placed on or off the lists is not transparent.
TIDE contained about 1.6 million people, including 16,000 U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, as of February 2017.
Some observers criticized using terrorist watch lists for gun control when the idea was floated in the aftermath of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, citing the lists' lack of transparency.
"It's ridiculous, the notion that somehow the watch lists are a reliable measuring stick for who should be deprived of an ability to purchase weapons," City University of New York law professor Ramzi Kassem said in 2016. "The discussion on gun control vastly overstates the reliability of the watch lists. They lack transparency and any available process to get off the lists if people believe they've been wrongly listed."
The National Rifle Association has said that, while it supports preventing terrorists from having guns, it has concerns about the protections afforded to law-abiding Americans under "no fly, no buy" legislation.
"Protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watch list to be removed," the NRA said in 2016.
In response to the latest push to use the lists for gun control, National Review‘s Jim Geraghty said the proposal seems innocuous but poses constitutional problems.
"The seemingly-innocuous proposal of banning gun sales to those on the no-fly list would allow the government to deny you constitutional rights based upon a secret process with little or no independent review of those decisions," Geraghty wrote last week.
Geraghty also pointed out the fact that people can end up on the list simply by having the same name as those under suspicion, which happened to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Young children have also been detained at airports for the same reason.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D.) supports the bill and framed the issue in terms of the government's responsibility to allow only certain people to buy guns.
"If we suspect someone of being a terrorist and think it would be too dangerous to let that person on a plane, it's probably not a good idea to let that person buy a gun either," Nelson said. "That's just common sense."
Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.), Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), Martin Heinrich (D., N.M.), Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.), Angus King (I., Maine), Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), and Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), also support the bill.