Flight Risks

Should people on the no-fly list be blocked from buying firearms?

Last week's mass shooting in San Bernardino, California by a husband-and-wife terrorist team has put new focus on an effort by congressional Democrats to block people on the nation's "no-fly" list from acquiring firearms.

Democrats had been pushing for the legislation, which has failed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in recent weeks.

Republicans have argued that the "no-fly" list is problematic because the process of including people on it is secretive and the process of having your name removed is cumbersome and uncertain.

But Democrats haven't given up. In an address to the nation last Sunday, Dec. 6, President Barack Obama called on Congress to put the names of people on the no-fly list into the nation's background-check system.

"Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun," Obama said. "What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security."

Obama also called for new laws to restrict the purchase of high-powered weaponry.

"We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino," Obama said. "I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies—no matter how effective they are—cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do—and must do—is make it harder for them to kill."

Both of Arizona's senators, Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake, voted last week against the proposal of adding people on the no-fly list to the national background-check database, while Southern Arizona Congresswoman Martha McSally voted against it earlier this month.

McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak said that McSally opposed the legislation because "this list has a lot of problems that make it a bad tool for restricting Americans' rights."

"The exact criteria that will get your name on this list or removed is vague and secretive," Ptak said. "You don't need a warrant against you. You don't have to be convicted or even charged with a crime to be added to the list. Organizations across the political spectrum have raised significant civil rights concerns with using it to take away rights. It has problems with accuracy, and people who have been falsely added include toddlers, those with similar names to suspected criminals, and even former Senator Ted Kennedy. Because of these flaws and the lack of due process—a core pillar of our justice system—for anyone placed on this list, Rep. McSally has serious concerns right now about using it as a blanket tool to take away Americans' rights."

The two Democrats who want to challenge McSally next year blasted her vote.

Matt Heinz, an emergency-room physician and former state lawmaker, used the vote to encourage donors to give to his campaign in a fundraising letter.

"There's simply no reason that people being monitored for terrorism should have access to firearms," Heinz said. "This vote is indicative of Martha McSally's refusal to get serious about the gun violence epidemic our country is facing. We've gone through the looking glass to a place where the gun rights of potential terrorists matter more than the rights of American families to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

State Rep. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson) called McSally's vote "reckless and irresponsible."

"It is critical that we stop these terrorists and protect innocent Americans," Steele said. "That's why we must close this loophole that allows suspected terrorists—who are already barred from flying on commercial airlines—from legally purchasing guns and explosives."

Ptak said that a better way to keep the United States from terror attacks would be to implement a list of more than 50 recommendations that the bipartisan Foreign Fighter Task Force developed earlier this year.

"These are thought-out, bipartisan recommendations that can actually improve our security processes, and Rep. McSally will be working with her colleagues over the coming weeks to implement them," Ptak said.

McSally blasted Obama's address to the nation on Sunday night as "wasted opportunity to show real leadership on this issue and present a stronger strategy to defeat ISIS."

"We need to abandon our current half-hearted and failed military approach and start unleashing our full air power to destroy ISIS' command and control, means of finance, and critical capabilities," McSally added in a prepared statement. "Radical Islamic terrorism is a real and dangerous threat to Americans and our way of life—and it's time our administration started acting like it. Instead of more of the status quo, we need a comprehensive strategy to actually defeat ISIS and the evil they represent."

In his Sunday speech, Obama also called on Congress to pass a new Authorization of Military Force. The current AUMF that the administration is operating under in order to battle ISIS dates back to the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

"If Congress believes, as I do, that we are at war with ISIL, it should go ahead and vote to authorize the continued use of military force against these terrorists," Obama said. "For over a year, I have ordered our military to take thousands of airstrikes against ISIL targets. I think it's time for Congress to vote to demonstrate that the American people are united, and committed, to this fight."

McSally supports debating a new AUMF that "should ensure our military and Commander in Chief have the tools they need to defeat ISIS," Ptak said.

"That being said, the president currently has all the authority he needs to develop a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS, yet he has failed to do so," Ptak added. "Rep. McSally has continually called for a stronger strategy that implements the recommendations outlined by members on the bipartisan Foreign Fighter Task Force to keep Americans safe and unleashes our full air power to destroy ISIS."

The push for a new AUMF has been backed by Flake, who said in the wake of last month's terror attack in Paris that the current AUMF was insufficient.

"With thousands of service members in support of Operation Inherent Resolve and attacks happening all over the world, the notion that a 14-year-old statute aimed at another enemy is any kind of a substitute for Congressional authorization to go after ISIL is insufficient," Flake said. "Operation Inherent Resolve warrants its own authorization not just because of its size and duration, because Americans are dying in pursuit of it, or because it is directed against an enemy that's a threat to humanity. This mission warrants its own authorization because we want it to succeed. We want the world to know that the United States speaks with one voice."

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined Flake in the call for a new AUMF.

"The question is, how long will Congress continue to be silent about this?" Kaine said. "Congress has seemed to prefer a strategy of 'criticize what the President's doing' ... but it's not enough for this body that has a constitutional authority in matters of war to just criticize the commander in chief. What we've done is sat on the sidelines and criticized, but we have not been willing either to vote to authorize what's going on, vote to stop what's going on or vote to refine or revise what's going on."