Opinion: Democrats Stage Sit-In for Futile Bill that Harms Arab Americans
BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer
After four failed attempts by U.S. Senate Democrats to pass legislation concerning gun control, the House Democrats began a sit-in. These legislative attempts came in response to last week’s shooting at an Orlando nightclub by Omar Mateen, who was questioned by the FBI twice for terrorism suspicions, but was still able to purchase weapons.
Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and James Clyburn (D-SC), who sought to pass HR 1076 entitled “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015”, started the sit-in. All Wednesday night, supporters chanted outside the Capitol while House Democrats made speeches, urging lawmakers to not give up on passing HR 1076.
After more than 25 hours, the Democrats ended their sit-in on Thursday afternoon, vowing more action once Congress returns to session after the July 4 recess.
This sit-in came six days after Senator Chris Murphey (D-CT) stood on the floor for a 14-hour filibuster after Republicans declared that they would not vote on any gun control legislation in the wake of the Orlando shooting. The filibuster was for a bill that would ban gun licenses and sales to anyone on a terrorist watchlist, and expand background checks to gun shows and internet sales.
The efforts of House and Senate Democrats were historic, but Republicans argued that denying gun purchases to those on terrorist watchlists, including the no-fly list, blocks due process rights to Americans wrongfully placed there.
Today, Senate Republicans are ready to compromise on Senator Susan Collins’ (R-ME) gun control bill, which would ban the purchase of weapons from those on the no-fly list, and enforces FBI approval for anyone on the broader terrorist watch lists wishing to purchase a gun.
While the majority of Americans favor stricter gun control laws, HR 1076 may not be the best option because so many Americans are erroneously placed on terrorist watchlists, which disproportionately affects Arab Americans.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a prominent civil rights organization, the no-fly list “refuses to provide meaningful notice of the reasons [for being] blacklisted, the basis for those reasons, and a hearing before a neutral decision-maker” to get off the list. The ACLU argues since the lists take away Americans’ constitutional right to fly, with no indication of why or how to fix it, then the lists must endure rigorous reform before being introduced in gun control legislation.
Since 2009, the number of people placed on terror watchlists, especially the no-fly list, has increased drastically. Roughly 81,000 people are on the no-fly list, of which fewer than one thousand are even U.S. citizens or residents. Essentially, HR 1076 would only affect the gun purchases of about a thousand people, many of whom should not be on the list, such as this four-year-old toddler.
Dearborn, Michigan, home to the highest concentration of Arab Americans in the country, has the highest amount of people on the terrorist watchlists, second only to New York City. Dearborn, a city of less than 100,000 people, is second on a list with major cities that have populations in the millions.
Many people are placed on this list simply because his or her name matches that of an actual terrorist, as well as FBI surveillance programs that discriminatorily target Arab Americans and Muslims. Some of those placed on watch lists include high-ranking Arab American government officials, Army veterans, university professors, and other respected members of society. Some of these people even have government clearances, making it inconceivable as to why they would be on any list.
Furthermore, most people do not find out they are on the no-fly list until they attempt to board an airplane. By that point, money and time has been wasted by the individual, and he or she is clueless as to how they got on there, and what to do to get off.
It is no secret to both Arab Americans and members of Congress that the no-fly list includes many invalidly placed names. Yet, Congressmen are still supporting HR 1076 without first acknowledging that changes must be made to the list before taking away the rights of many unknowing Americans.
Indeed, Americans can agree that they do not want to see guns in the hands of legitimate terrorists. However, the list includes far too many people with no ties to terrorism at all to make it a sound indicator for who should and should not practice the Second Amendment.
The real perpetrators of gun violence in the U.S. do not make up terrorist watchlists, making the sit-in that much more futile. Nearly 99% of gun violence that takes place in the U.S. is not by American Muslims. And in the past ten years, there were over 300,000 deaths caused by gun violence, while only 71 were caused by terrorism.
Even if the U.S. did not prejudicially limit the definition of terrorism to Arabs and Muslims, it is clear that there is a much larger threat to the safety of Americans than terrorism. If Democrats want real change in gun legislation, they need to take a look at the numbers again.
Arab Americans already have to face gross backlash whenever a Muslim commits a heinous crime. Democrats, don’t strip their rights even further just so the party can feel like it made a political win by passing completely ineffective and ludicrous legislation that ignores the real problem of gun violence in America.