The latest attempts to legislatively restrict gun rights failed last night, but we know this legislation is not truly dead. It will be used by Democrats to get out the vote against Republicans who opposed the legislation (keep in mind the American Civil Liberties Union also objected). Though Donald Trump is apparently friendly to the idea of restricting gun rights based on inclusion on federal watch lists (for Trump's current position on gun rights or gun control, consult your closest Magic 8-Ball), Hillary Clinton will nevertheless be campaigning on this attempt at restrictions. And she, like many supporters, are deliberately misleading about what Sen. Dianne Feinstein's legislation does. Note the graphic on the right from Clinton's Twitter account.
Last night when Feinstein was arguing for gun control law she said that the no-fly list contains only 81,000 names, and fewer than 1,000 of those names are those of Americans. She mentioned a second TSA screening list that contains fewer than 2,000 American names.
It is very important to understand—given that this debate is likely to continue up until the election at least—that Feinstein's legislation is not restricted to prohibiting gun purchases from those on the no-fly list. Yesterday Jacob Sullum explained how far-reaching Feinstein's proposal actually was:
Under Feinstein's 2015 bill, the attorney general can stop the transfer of a firearm if he "1) determines that the transferee is known (or appropriately suspected) to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism, or providing material support or resources for terrorism" and "(2) has a reasonable belief that the prospective transferee may use a firearm in connection with terrorism." The amendment Feinstein introduced last Wednesday, by contrast, lets the attorney general block a sale if he "determines, based on the totality of the circumstances, that the transferee represents a threat to public safety based on a reasonable suspicion that the transferee is engaged, or has been engaged, in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism, or providing material support or resources thereof."
In the revised version, there is no additional requirement that the attorney general have reason to believe the weapon the suspect is trying to buy will be used in a terrorist attack. Hence an old lady who cut a check to a Hamas-affiliated charity (thereby "providing material support" to terrorism and arguably threatening public safety) could be stopped from buying a handgun for self-defense even if there was no evidence that she planned any sort of attack with it. Feinstein's amendment also expands the dragnet beyond the FBI's so-called Terrorist Watchlist, which is believed to include more than 1 million people, to cover anyone who was under investigation for "conduct related to a federal crime of terrorism" during the previous five years. The Justice Department would be notified of attempted gun purchases by people who fit that description, giving it a chance to block the sales.
There's a very deliberate effort here to misstate to Americans what Feinstein's law does. Part of that is undoubtedly because a recent poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support denying gun sales to people on the "no-fly" list. Perhaps if Americans understood that what Feinstein is proposing is affecting hundreds of thousands of more people than she's claiming they'd be less likely to give it a thumbs up. But when people think the list is actually very limited, they're probably more likely to accept it, due process violations notwithstanding.
But proponents of the law don't particularly care about the distinctions because of their generalized stance against gun ownership. That more people will be denied guns is a feature, not a bug, even if these people are innocent of any sort of disqualifying behavior. If you perceive all gun ownership outside of the state as a threat, then the broader hidden consequences are actually beneficial to your goal.
The fact that supporters of Feinstein's legislation are deliberately misleading us about how broadly it impacts should make it clear that this is not "common sense" public safety and it's not about closing "loopholes." It is about reducing the number of people who can exert their right to gun ownership by any circumstances necessary.