(Longer post below the TL;DR)
TL;DR The dems are on the right path by seeking to force a vote on "No Fly = No Buy" if and only if they are also willing to make clear to the public the conditions under which people are placed on the No Fly list.
After another horrific shooting spree, some in government (mostly democrats, though some repubs are in agreement) seem to finally have the gumption to do whatever it takes to pass some
kind of legislation regarding the kinds of guns which are available for purchase as well as what would prevent someone from qualifying for gun ownership. The democrats have framed the issues as such: 1) banning the purchase of semi-assault / military-styled rifles, and 2) some sort of 'No Fly = No Buy' ban on purchasing any gun.
1 is interesting because many of the high profile cases in the last few years have involved these kinds of weapons (e.g. AR-15). While I am sympathetic to the 'what could you possibly need it for?' argument, I am currently more interested in 2.
2 is highly intriguing. Obama said (about 2 weeks ago in a PBS Townhall special*) that there are people, American citizens, who are checking out ISIL websites, are on the No Fly list, but are people who he cannot prevent from buying firearms. Moreover, we have heard quite a bit from politicians supporting, in varying degrees, the No Fly = No Buy 'common sense' law. This seems to rest a very odd assumption. That assumption is that the No Fly list is a reliable way to track potential / actual terrorists. This assumption must be made explicit so it can be critically assessed.
Two years ago, The Intercept got ahold of a 166 page National Counterterrorism Center document outlining the (then) current guidelines for putting an individual on the No Fly list.** The list of criteria involved, among other things, vague phrases about social media posts being 'reasonably' questionable, as well as the people with whom you are acquainted being reason enough to ban you from flight. The Orlando shooter surely satisfied these conditions (his own Facebook posts; his father's online comments in support of the Taliban) However, the question naturally arises about what else it would take to satisfiy these conditions. If I am critical of the US's drone policy in Yeman, does this justify the FBI in flagging me as a threat, and, hence, on the No Fly list? If a family member of mine self-radicalizes, do I automatically get lumped in to their poor decision? Even tougher to answer: how long am I justifiably placed on the No Fly list? Who makes these potentially burdonsome decisions? Is there any oversight? What about due process?
Clearly, with the Orlando shooting, we want someone like that shooter to be both on the No Fly list as well as the No Buy list. We also want, however, to not cast a net too far and sweep a disproprtionate amount of innocent citizens into a No Fly / No Buy situation. One way to avoid this consequence would be to make the FBI's critiera transparent and open to the public, and theregore open to public debate. Currently, the criteria are hidden (unless news sources like The Intercept have a source / leak). I suppose one might respond that we ought to be better safe than sorry (i.e. put all the actual threats and some non-threats on a list, rather than miss a threat), but that kind of reasoning would, if carried out consistently, put everyone on the watch list - even the watchers! This is clearly problematic.
So, long story longer, I think the democrats are on the right path in pursuing 2, so long as they are also willing to make transparent the conditions under which citizens will be barred from flight / weapons purchasing.
(I have focused on citizens in this post, but similar issues could be raised for non-citizens the US is watching)