Earlier this year, President Obama attempted to pass, at the Federal level as part of a package of sensible gun regulations, a universal background check bill, which would have required a 5-minute background check on all gun sales, including those from private sellers and at gun shows, to help keep guns out of the hands of prohibited people, without infringing on the right of law-abiding adults to purchase their guns. Background checks work. From 1994 through 2008, background checks on guns purchased from licensed firearms dealers prevented 1.8 million prohibited people in the United States, including felons and the mentally ill, from buying guns (according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics).
A much more scaled-down bill, the Manchin-Toomey background check bill, would have at least required background checks at all gun shows, but not for most private transfers. The bill failed when a minority of pro-gun, NRA-sponsored senators threatened to filibuster.
Despite the fact that an amazing and nearly unprecedented (for any political topic) 90% of civilians, including 75% of NRA members, support universal background checks, the NRA nonetheless opposed them. As usual, the NRA pushed its own extreme agenda instead of representing their own members. After all, the gun manufacturers who fund the NRA make money from all gun sales, legal or not.
The really ridiculous part is that the NRA claimed, as justification for its opposition, that background checks would create a (evil!) registration list of gun owners (notice that the word "confiscation" usually fell soon after the word "registration"). LaPierre is quoted as saying:
[Y]ou're creating a registry of all the law-abiding people in the country that own firearms. I know the politicians say, "Hey, we'll never use that list to confiscate." That's a pretty darn tall order to believe a promise from people in this town right now.
He wrote in one opinion piece:
Imagine if the biggest step in their confiscation scheme—“universal gun owner licensing and registration”—were a reality. Acquisition, transfer or continued ownership of firearms could depend on the whim of federal bureaucrats—just like the IRS operation—in analyzing questionnaires that gun owners would be required by law to answer.
Elsewhere, he's quoted as saying:
“As if that would somehow make us safer from violent criminals and homicidal maniacs? Are they insane?” he said, referring to the idea of a federal registry of gun owners.
Mr. LaPierre, who received a series of standing ovations, speculated that any federal database could be hacked by the Chinese or given to other foreign entities. He said the Mexican government had already requested such a list, and warned newspapers would print the names and addresses of gun owners “for gangs and criminals to access,” adding that’s already occurred.
“In the end there are only two reasons for the government to create that federal registry of gun owners,” he said. “To tax them or to take them.”
Of course, it's all fearmongering. No one in the government has actually suggested the creation of a gun registry. In fact, as pointed out in a recent Media Matters posting, the Firearm Owners' Protection Act of 1986 makes it illegal for the government to do so, and all records in the background check system are destroyed within 24 hours. He knows this, but prefers to lie about it in order to continue stoking the paranoid fears of his loyal followers in his little "circus of fears." The NRA is no stranger to making up wild conspiracy theories.
And that false talking point about registration of guns has been used over and over again as justification for fighting any number of gun regulations, at all levels of government.
BUT HERE'S THE FABULOUSLY HYPOCRITICAL PART OF IT: It's not the government that has a secret list of millions of gun owners, but the NRA itself!
That's right: it was revealed this week by Buzzfeed that the NRA keeps a secret database of tens of millions of gun owners, without the gun owners' consent.
And how did they create such a list? By mining data from government hunter records, pulling information from attendees of gun safety classes, gun shows, magazine subscriptions, and other sources, as well as counting its regular members who pay dues. They feel no shame in paying to get names and personal information of gun permit holders from state departments of public safety.
From the Buzzfeed article:
That database has been built through years of acquiring gun permit registration lists from state and county offices, gathering names of new owners from the thousands of gun safety classes taught by NRA-certified instructors and by buying lists of attendees of gun shows, subscribers to gun magazines, and more, BuzzFeed has learned
NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam declined to discuss the group’s name-gathering methods or what it does with its vast pool of data about millions of non-member gun owners. Asked what becomes of the class rosters for safety classes when instructors turn them in, he replied, “That’s not any of your business.”
The NRA won’t say how many names and what other personal information is in its database, but former NRA lobbyist Richard Feldman estimates they keep tabs on “tens of millions of people.”
“We’ve been doing this since the old days,” Feldman said. “You could obtain from most states the listings of hunter licenses from the Department of Wildlife and Conservations. It was sort of amazing what we knew about people from that. There were early doe permit holders, black powder holders, so many different seasons. It was a lot of data.”
Complementing this practice is the mining of data on the thousands who take gun safety classes from NRA-certified instructors. Arulanandam said there are 97,000 of them, a figure that impressed Quinn as a larger “army of organizers” than Obama had.
In some states, those ranks are propelled by laws that specify that taking classes from NRA-certified instructors in order to obtain permits or licenses.
Naturally, the NRA isn't collecting this information on people for "safe keeping" or anything. Follow the money. They use this information to target gun owners for lobbying efforts and to push their own extremist lies and conspiracy theories -- such as government registration of gun owners.
And, I might add, there is nothing to keep the NRA from sharing or selling its secret database with whomever they choose, without consent from the people listed there.
Once again, it's not the government that gun owners need to fear, but rather the very lobby that purports to represent them.