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Was the #NoBillNoBreak Sit-In Worth It?

The no-fly list complicates the argument


On the latest episode of the Keepin’ It 1600 podcast, hosts Dan Pfeiffer and Jon Favreau discussed the sit-in staged on the floor of the House of Representatives by several Democrats. They looked at it from several angles, including whether this legislation was worth fighting for in such a manner. Read an excerpt on that topic below, and listen to the whole conversation here. The transcript has been edited and condensed.

Jon Favreau: We should talk about #NoBillNoBreak, which is the House Democrats, led by civil rights hero John Lewis, engaged in a sit-in on the House floor to force a vote on a couple of gun-safety pieces of legislation: the no-fly list, keeping guns away from people who are on the no-fly list, background checks. There were a couple other measures, too, I can’t remember all of them.

Dan Pfeiffer: Gun research was another one, I believe.

J.F.: What do you think about the argument of some people on the left, civil libertarians, and the ACLU that the no-fly list is a pretty capricious list in the first place? I think 800,000 people are on it; we don’t think there are 800,000 terrorists among us. But it’s secretive. There’s not a lot of due process if you’re on the no-fly list to say, “Why am I on the no-fly list, can I get off the no-fly list?” It’s this very secretive list.

The argument from some people, some on the left, is: Look, if you take people’s guns away without due process, what’s next? What happens if there’s a President Trump and he starts making secretive lists?

Or — someone made a good point — what happens when the next Republican president comes into power and just says, “OK, well, we’re not going to stop people from buying guns on the no-fly list” because it’s basically an executive order.

D.P.: I have a complicated set of emotions or views about this. I agree from a purely policy, civil liberties perspective with the left argument on this. The no-fly list is capricious and alarming, and I have confidence that the people that Barack Obama has hired have tried to deal with this in the best way possible. I will have less confidence if a President Trump, or any other president who’s not one I know personally —

J.F.: I agree.

D.P.: The problem with the Republican argument is you can’t support the no-fly list, and then say it’s capricious and can’t be used in this area around guns. Yes, we can definitely get rid of due process to keep people from flying on airplanes, but it would be horrible to keep them from buying assault weapons. [The latter] seems to be a greater immediate risk, considering you have to take your shoes off, you have to show an ID, you have to go through metal detectors, get patted down [before you can] get on a plane. You can walk into a store in large parts of this country, buy an assault weapon, and walk out. And so, the Republican argument is bullshit.

This is the kind of policy-making that I’ve sort of grown to hate, in the sense that it’s like, Let’s create a policy that polls really well, that looks really good in an attack ad, and let’s spend a lot of time on it. There are a lot of really good, much more important gun-safety laws [that] the Democrats should be pushing for other than this one.

Now, I’m sympathetic to the view [that] the only way you’re going to get these laws passed is to go beat a lot of Republicans, so let’s push the policies that help you beat a lot of Republicans.

J.F.: I’ve thought about this a lot because I totally get the argument of the civil libertarians and people on the left about the list. But if you’re going to go with that argument, I think back to Obama a couple weeks before Orlando holding that town hall, when he said [paraphrasing], “Look, I came from the Situation Room and we know there are people that the FBI is monitoring because they may be terrorists, and we can’t stop those people. We have no tools to stop those people from buying an assault weapon or an AR-15 or whatever.”

So you have to tell yourself: If I’m against this because I’m worried about the no-fly list, then there’s going to be people that the FBI knows may commit terrorism out there who we’re going to say, “All right, because we don’t want to violate your due process, you can go buy guns.” That’s just the truth, and it sucks.

Maybe you say to yourself, “Well, no, it’s more important to uphold everyone’s civil liberties and due process.” Maybe that’s right. But it’s a real choice.