Takeoff for ‘No Fly, No Buy’

June 25, 2016

Takeoff for ‘No Fly, No Buy’
Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2016

House Democrats agitating for votes on gun-control bills this week had a catchy rhyming name for one of the proposals, which would bar the sale of firearms to people who aren’t allowed to board planes: “no fly, no buy.”

While pithy and memorable, “no fly, no buy” obscures some legislative complexities. Abipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Susan Collins would focus on the government’s “no fly” list along with the “selectee list,” covering people subject to extra security screenings. “No fly, no buy” has also been applied to legislation targeting a much broader terrorist watch list, such as a bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that the Senate rejected this week.

Former Rep. Carolyn McCarthy was the first to put the rhyme to use in Congress seven years ago, when she introduced the No Fly, No Buy Act of 2009. That name, in turn, was based on the No Fly List, created by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Before that, the expression “no fly” was used to describe restrictions on the flight of aircraft, not passengers. While the public may have first heard about “no-fly zones” over Iraq and Bosnia in the 1990s, the term goes back much further in military aviation. The September 1963 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette reported that after a combat training area was unveiled, “helicopter pilots asked if the area was a no-fly zone.”

A similar phrase is “no-go area,” which first appeared in the British press in 1970 to describe republican parts of cities in Northern Ireland, such as Londonderry and Belfast, where the Royal Ulster police feared to tread.

Pairing “no” with a verb also crops up in some colloquial expressions like “long time, no see” and “no can do.” According to etymologists, both of these phrases have their roots in the pidgin English of Chinese speakers in the 19th century. The simplified syntax of Chinese pidgin English was often imitated with derisive humor.

“No fly, no buy” takes advantage of the familiar formula “No X, no Y,” which implies a conditional relationship: “If there is no X, then there will be no Y.” The formula is handy for punchy mottos like “No pain, no gain,” as well as call-and-response protest chants like “No justice, no peace,” which was first used by New York City demonstrators after a racially charged attack in the Howard Beach area of Queens in December 1986.

In fact, when the “no fly, no buy” proposal, along with one that would expand background checks, didn’t get scheduled for a vote before the House’s Fourth of July recess, Democratic representatives chanted another “no, no” slogan during their impromptu sit-in: “No bill, no break.” Democrats had similarly sloganeered during the 2013 budget sequestration crisis: “No deal, no break.” Then as now, the “No X, no Y” conditional failed, as Republican House leaders forced an adjournment anyway.

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