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Republicans Turn Tail On The No-Fly List Amid Gun Debate

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AP Photo / Harry Hamburg

Since the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, congressional Democrats have tried to curb gun violence with a proposal they know is politically tricky for Republicans to turn down: closing a loophole that allows individuals on the no-fly list and broader terrorism watch list to buy guns. Republicans who argue it's unfair to deny firearms purchases to people on the no-fly list stood in the way of legislation that would close that loophole last week. The White House, however, is still pushing the issue.

Republicans' major line of argument is that some of the people listed on the no-fly list are law-abiding citizens and don't belong there.

"Look at the number of errors on the no fly list," said Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). "One estimate was that there were up to 50 percent errors."

The no-fly list has long been a target for civil liberties advocates who have concerns about its secretive nature. Under the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11, many of the critiques of the list came from Democrats and groups like the ACLU. At one point, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) was put on the list, further highlighting its issues.

The no-fly list has come under increasing criticism since President Barack Obama has taken office. In 2013, The Intercept reported there were 47,000 people on the no-fly list, more than 10 times the number of people on the list when Obama first stepped into office. Republicans' rebuke of the list in light of the current gun control debate, however, goes to show just how highly the party reveres gun rights.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) told TPM that "slowing one's ability to get on an aircraft is different than taking away someone's specific constitutional right to bare arms."

"It would be a carte blanche invitation to an administration that clearly would prefer seeing people have a more difficult time to get guns, to simply add more people to the no-fly list for a number of different reasons," Rounds said."We don't want to go down that route."

Senate Republicans blocked a proposal last week that would have closed the terrorist watch list loophole. Some who were asked about their vote didn't want to answer questions about it.

"Talk to my office," said Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) told reporters.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) had a simple explanation for his vote: "Uh, Second Amendment."

And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told reporters he blocked the legislation because "it was just a political game. We didn't like it."

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) explained that he had constitutional problems with the bill. He introduced an alternative that would have blocked individuals on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun for 72 hours and compelled the federal government to file some evidence as to why the individual should not be able to buy a gun in a court hearing during that time period.

"I thought it was immediately reasonable," Cornyn said. "If the president believes that people on no-fly lists are a threat to the public, then how come his Department of Justice doesn't indict them, try them and convict them and put them behind bars. That's the president's responsibility."

About The Author

Lauren Fox is a reporter at Talking Points Memo.