Just before the House of Representatives voted on the first significant piece of gun control legislation to pass the chamber floor in over 20 years, Republicans, with the support of Democrats, managed to include racist, fear-mongering language that targets undocumented immigrants living in the United States.
Prior to the final vote, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) called for a motion to recommit to include a provision in the bill that would require the federal background check database to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a gun.
Of the 26 Democrats who supported the amendment, 22 were from districts previously held by Republicans, and 18 were first elected in 2018, including Reps. Conor Lamb (D-PA), Abby Finkenauer (D-IA), and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA). Their support allowed for the language to be added to the bill, which was subsequently approved by the entire House by a vote of 240-190.
Like the proposed No Fly, No Buy Act of 2009, which would prohibit gun sales to anyone in the federal Terrorist Screening Database, and a similar 2016 proposal introduced by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) after the Pulse nightclub shooting, any piece of legislation that tips off federal authorities, ends up throwing communities of color under the bus.
These measures are often conducted in good faith, but have a small impact on the overall sale of firearms and frequently violate the civil liberties of marginalized communities.
Furthermore, such measures are premised on the false notion that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at higher rates than native-born citizens. Numerous studies have found that the opposite is actually true: native-born citizens are much more likely to commit crimes than immigrants, whether undocumented or documented.
Additionally, a very small number of individuals on the government’s “terrorist watchlist” buy guns. As detailed in a 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office, out of the 23.1 million background checks conducted last year, only 0.001 percent of checked sales involved anyone on that list. And as for the no-fly list, according to The New York Times, roughly 90 percent are not U.S. citizens or lawful residents, which means they would be banned from purchasing firearms anyway.
These watchlists are often compiled by security analysts who err on the side of caution and use “reasonable suspicion” when deciding if someone should be placed on a list. This has resulted in backlash from agencies like the American Civil Liberties Union, which has argued that there are no clear standards by which to determine who is placed in a database that could be used for religious and racial profiling. The same could be said for ICE. The agency is far from perfect and has a history of targeting and sometimes detaining U.S. citizens on the suspicion they are undocumented.