Congress

How a conservative congressman ended up on the terrorist no-fly list

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., left, seen in 2011, told the House of Representatives on Thursday that Californians are subject to the most restrictive gun laws. He also told his colleagues that he had been on the no-fly anti-terrorism list.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., left, seen in 2011, told the House of Representatives on Thursday that Californians are subject to the most restrictive gun laws. He also told his colleagues that he had been on the no-fly anti-terrorism list. Bee Staff photo

Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove, a liberty-minded conservative and staunch defender of gun rights, took to the House floor Thursday to warn the nation about the perils of strict firearms legislation, offering that “the most effective defense against an armed terrorist is an armed American.”

McClintock, delivering his remarks as many lawmakers across the country seized on the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino to renew their push for tougher laws, said that if just one person in the room had been able to return fire, “many innocent lives could have been saved.”

“But Californians are subject to the most restrictive gun laws in the country, making it very difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment right to defend themselves,” he said. “And in a society denied its right of self-defense, the gunman is king.”

Among the proposed restrictions advocated by President Barack Obama and rebuffed by Congress is to ban those on the federal government’s terrorist no-fly list from being able to purchase a gun. On Thursday, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said he would sign an executive order doing so. And last week, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, said he would carry such a bill when the Legislature returns next month from its winter recess.

Along with philosophical qualms, McClintock said he has personal reasons to doubt the efficacy of the no-fly list. Turns out that when he was in the state Senate a decade ago, McClintock said, he discovered he couldn’t check into his flight.

“When I asked why, I was told I was on this government list,” McClintock said, calling the whole experience “Kafkaesque.”

“My first reaction was to ask, ‘Why am I on that list?’ ‘We can’t tell you that.’ ‘What are the criteria you use?’ I asked. ‘That’s classified.’ I said, ‘How can I get off this list?’ The answer was, ‘You can’t.’ 

He said it ended up being a case of mistaken identity with an Irish Republican Army activist the “British government was mad at.”

McClintock said he soon learned that a fellow state senator also had been placed on the list, as well as the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy. McClintock said he at least had the state Senate sergeant-at-arms to work through to clear up the confusion – “something an ordinary American would not.”

Still, he said it took months of working with officials and repeated petitions to the government to get his name removed.

“The farce of it all was that I was advised in the meantime just to fly under my middle name, which I did without incident,” he added.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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