A top official at the Department of Homeland Security on Thursday appeared to break with the White House’s call for Congress to ban people on the federal no-fly list from buying guns.
“I believe it would be apples and oranges” to use the watch list for anything other than its designed purpose, Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Alan Bersin told House lawmakers in an Oversight Committee hearing on Thursday.
The comments are likely to propel arguments of conservatives and other critics of the White House’s proposal, who warn that the restrictions would unfairly prevent people from exercising their constitutional rights to purchase a firearm.
“My concern is there has been a lot of talk recently about using the watch list for purposes other than what they were intended, for instance determining whether or not Americans are able to exercise their rights under the Second Amendment,” Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdThe biggest political upsets of the decade Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations MORE (R-Texas) told Bersin.
The day after the hearing, Bersin said that his remarks "were in the context of an extended discussion about screening procedures and in no way call into question my view that terrorists should not be able to obtain weapons."
"To be clear, it is the administration's position that Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun," Bersin said in a statement Friday.
"This is a matter of national security and common sense, and it is a position I and the department support."
The no-fly list proposal has been a top priority of the White House and congressional Democrats, who have turned to calling for the new gun regulations following heightened concerns about terrorism.
“People can't get on planes, but those same people who we don't allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there's nothing that we can do to stop them,” President Obama said in an interview this month. “That's a law that needs to be changed.”
Yet most GOP lawmakers have bucked the call, saying that it would infringe on Americans’ rights.
Bersin did not seem to be aware of the Obama administration’s proposal on Thursday.
“Less than 0.1 percent” of the tens of thousands of people on the federal no-fly list are Americans, Bersin told lawmakers.
Critics of the White House’s proposal note that the broad list has included multiple people by mistake, such as late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). For those people mistakenly on the list, it’s extremely difficult to get off, Republicans note.
“It’s an extended process,” Bersin conceded on Thursday.
- This story was updated on Dec. 18.