During Wednesday night’s CNN town hall event, 2020 presidential hopeful Cory Booker indulged in a favorite pastime of Democratic politicians: spewing false and inaccurate information on gun laws.
When answering an audience member’s question on his plan to address gun misuse, Booker immediately turned to attacking the National Rifle Association and laws that are not actually found anywhere in federal law. Let’s look at the each of the gun “loopholes” Booker is so passionate about abolishing.
“[The NRA] is defending loopholes, like that loophole if a man is convicted of beating his wife, he can find a loophole to go out and buy a gun and murder her,” Booker said. “They are defending, not their membership, but the loopholes, like the loophole that says someone on the terrorist no-fly list in our country can still go to a gun show and buy weapons. That somebody that’s convicted of a violent crime can still find a loophole to buy a violent weapon.”
The claim that a wife-beater or someone convicted of a violent crime can purchase or possess a firearm is categorically false. The 1968 Gun Control Act prohibits anyone convicted of a felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from possessing a firearm.
Every dealer with a Federal Firearms License must perform background checks through the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System (NICS) every time they sell a firearm to a consumer. It doesn’t matter if this sale takes place online, at a gun show, or in a parking lot. So anyone with a domestic violence conviction on his or her record should be prevented from buying a gun.
Where the system often fails is not in the lack of background checks, but in a bureaucratic failure to enforce the existing background check. States sometimes fail to submit or update their records with NICS, allowing for lapses in the background check system.
For private sales within the same state, including a gift, trade, loan, or reselling an old gun, the seller does not have to perform a background check. Some states with universal background check systems do require background checks on private sales.
To accurately address the second “loophole” Booker mentioned, it’s best to evaluate the “terrorist no-fly list” and the “gun show” loophole individually. First, there is no such thing as a “gun show loophole.” See above about FFL dealers, who even at gun shows must run background checks with the NICS.
Secondly, while it is true that inclusion on the FBI’s terrorist watch list would not prevent an individual from purchasing a gun, it doesn’t mean we are letting terrorists buy weapons, like Booker is implying.
First of all, there is no such thing as the “terrorist no-fly list” that Booker describes. What we do have is the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, which manages multiple watch lists, and does so in mostly secrecy. The largest one, Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, reportedly adds 20,000 people to its list every year, and totals are now suspected to be higher than 1.5 million people. Also, inclusion in that database does not mean an individual cannot fly. If being one of the million names on TIDE makes you a terrorist, then that’s a lot of known terrorists freely walking around.
We also know the FBI maintains a “No Fly List” and a “Selectee List,” but there is not much public information on how one gets placed on them, or how he or she can get removed. This is partially what makes them unconstitutional. The supposed standard for getting put on a list is “reasonable suspicion,” which could pretty much mean anything, from having facial hair to the color of your skin. And when an American is placed on one of these arbitrary lists, it’s done discreetly. An individual isn’t notified that he or she has been added, or given a reason why.
These are the types of due-process violations and discrimination battles that civil rights organizations like the ACLU have been fighting for decades. As more Democrats attempt to equate “No Fly” lists with “known terrorists,” it’s a battle that gun rights advocates are having to fight too. Creating such a law would mean allowing the government to strip the constitutional rights of anyone who is not even charged or alleged to have committed a crime (let alone terrorism), but simply suspected of being a criminal.
Booker is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, Democratic presidential candidate to spread these myths about firearms and gun laws. Maybe Booker is a strategic campaigning genius, but it sure seems dicey to me to build a platform on abolishing laws that don’t exist.