Increased fervor over U.S. government’s terrorist watchlist

Suspected terrorists shouldn’t be able to purchase guns, says an action alert emailed Monday to supporters of Barack Obama through his political action committee, Organizing for Action.

The alert echoed statements made by the president Sunday from the Oval Office, where he called on Congress to act on legislation to prevent those with suspected ties to terrorist organizations from possessing or purchasing guns.

Maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Screening Center, the so-called terror watchlist is a database that includes lists and subset lists, including a no-fly list.

An estimated 2,000 of the more than 700,000 individuals listed in the database have legally purchased firearms in the past decade. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates the number of names on the watchlist to exceed a million.       

News of the government list has created not-so-strange bedfellows in the ACLU and the National Rifle Association, who both oppose using the watchlist to engage in discriminatory profiling by denying firearms purchases to those named.

This isn’t the first time the groups combined efforts in the name of civil liberties. The NRA joined the ACLU in 2013 to challenge National Security Agency spying and collection of phone records. The same year, the two groups joined forces to oppose gun control legislation. In 2007, the groups banded together to defend Texas drivers’ gun rights and did so again in 1996 to oppose anti-terrorism legislation.

Both organizations oppose using any government list to deny guns to Americans, citing due process protections under the Constitution. The NRA says creating a law to do so would be a waste of time.

“Under the current system, law enforcement is notified every time a person on the list attempts to purchase a firearm. Law Enforcement then makes a case by case decision on the appropriate follow-up for each circumstance,” said Jennifer Baker, NRA director of public affairs, in a statement.   

Sen. Marco Rubio recently echoed concerns by fellow Republicans, the ACLU and the NRA, saying the database could be used to deny guns to hundreds of thousands of Americans.

While it has been estimated that 700,000 people could be on the government’s terror watchlist, only around 10,000 of them are Americans, the rest are foreigners, according to fact checker Politifact.

The reason for an expansive database is because the government has taken the liberty of adding people with suspected ties to terrorists.

Many times individuals are misidentified as being on the list, as was the case with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was stopped five times at airports in March 2004 because his name matched the alias of a suspected terrorist. The incidents prompted a renewed public interest in the no-fly list, which was created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks along with the Department of Homeland Security.

Syed Farook — father of Syed Rizwan Farook, a suspect in the fatal San Bernardino mass shooting last week — was put on the FBI’s list, along with other family members and friends, the New York Post reported. The 66-year-old father was reportedly put on the watchlist because of his trips to Pakistan, which the jihadist Farook had also made.

“Farook, although he is dead, is now officially listed by the FBI as a terrorist,” a federal law-enforcement source told The Post. “His father is watch-listed because of his close association to Farook and his extensive ties to Pakistan.”

Farook’s family issued a statement offering an apology for his actions, saying have cooperated with law enforcement and will continue to do so.”