The Democrats' 25-hour gun control sit-in didn't have anything to do with gun control

Despite a failed 25-hour sit-in in the House of Representatives and four failed amendments in the Senate, the Democrats appear likely to continue fighting for gun-control legislation that has been loudly decried by critics on the right and the left as a threat to Americans’ civil rights.

One major aim of the proposed legislation was to prohibit gun sales to individuals on the FBI’s terror watch list.

Critics have contested that the Democrats’ efforts since the Orlando shooting — which left 49 people dead in an Orlando nightclub on June 12 — amount to theatrics, rather than effective legislation. They further say that the policies would not so much reduce gun violence as disproportionately target Muslim-Americans and strip them of both privacy and gun ownership rights.

House Speaker Paul Ryan slammed the Democrats’ sit-in on Wednesday as a “political stunt” designed to fundraise and attract media attention.

While Ryan’s reaction may have been expected, the position of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) may be more surprising.

The ACLU has sided with Republicans and the NRA in their opposition to so-called “no fly, no buy” legislation, saying it’s inconsistent with civil liberties principles. The ACLU sent a letter to Senators on Monday urging them to vote down the proposed amendments:

While it looks increasingly unlikely that the “no fly, no buy” proposal will pass, Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel at the ACLU, told Business Insider that it is unlikely Democrats will stop trying.

“It’s certainly something that is a politically attractive slogan, but when it’s actually carried out in the real world, you end up with a discriminatory list,” said Anders. “That’s not good for national security, and it’s certainly not fair to the people who are on these lists.”

A major issue with the “no fly, no buy” legislation is the actual watch list, said Anders, who characterised the list as “overly broad and discriminatory.” If lawmakers want to use the watch list as a tool in gun regulation, it must first be made less vague and secretive, said Anders.  

Gadeir Abbas, an attorney who has represented dozens of Americans who were placed on the terror watch list, told Business Insider that lawmakers have clearly drummed up public support for the “no fly, no buy” efforts for political reasons, not practical ones.

“It’s easy, and more politically palatable, to target the many thousands of American Muslims that find themselves on these watch lists than to do something actually impactful with respect to gun control.”

Furthermore, he said, lawmakers have pushed the legislation in a way that misleads the people on what the terror watch list actually is.

Abbas said the watch list is a “Trump-style database of Muslims” that is comprised of people who have been neither charged, nor convicted of crimes. The effect of being placed on such a list as an innocent American is completely ostracizing, he said.

“When people find out that they’re on a federal watch list, It feels as if the government that they pledge allegiance to has betrayed them,” he said.  “What other emotion could you expect a person to have who has not been charged with a crime, has not been arrested for something criminal, and whose life is upended for reasons that will never be known to them by someone who will never be identified to them?”

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