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August 21, 2013

No, The NRA Does Not Have a National Gun Registry

BuzzFeed's Steve Friess thinks he has a real scoop on his hands. The NRA has been building a database, and that's hypocritical because they oppose the government doing so.

But in fact, the sort of vast, secret database the NRA often warns of already exists, despite having been assembled largely without the knowledge or consent of gun owners. It is housed in the Virginia offices of the NRA itself. The country’s largest privately held database of current, former, and prospective gun owners is one of the powerful lobby’s secret weapons, expanding its influence well beyond its estimated 3 million members and bolstering its political supremacy.
This isn't a gun registry; it's a marketing list. There's a world of difference. The "gun owner" classification is mostly assumed, based on interests and behavior. It's not even particularly important to the NRA whether they are gun owners, so long as they have an interest in gun rights and the second amendment. Companies do this all the time. Remember when Target figured out a teenager was pregnant before her parents did?
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.
This is known as micro-targeting, and it is not dissimilar from how any other politically-active entity seeks to expand its influence and engagement. Team Obama was famously data-mining single mothers on Facebook to warn them of the coming Sesame Street Wars, which thankfully never came to pass and I'm confident that the Sierra Club is scooping up attendee lists for tofu-based granola and free-range yogurt festivals.

Furthermore, are we supposed to be shocked that the NRA saves attendee information from their own gun safety and training classes? Permit registration lists are often times public or can at least be acquired simply by asking and magazines and conferences have been selling subscriber/attendee lists for decades. The NRA seems to have cracked the secret to finding people interested in firearms.

BuzzFeed very much wants you to believe that it is hypocritical for the NRA to keep a list of individuals who may own firearms while simultaneously opposing the government doing so. So what are the differences? In the NRA's case, outside of typical fundraising communications, they wish to alert people should the government and/or politicians attempt to pursue more onerous and overbearing gun control legislation. With a few possible exceptions (actual gun data the government already has), the NRA doesn't know what firearms you own. They can perhaps deduce that you may have an interest in duck hunting or competition shooting based on magazine subscriptions or other data points, but they aren't interested tracking weapons.

What the NRA opposes is a gun registry, which would allow the government to monitor precisely what you own (make, model, serial number). The reason for opposing a registry is simple enough: it often leads to confiscation. There are countless examples of this throughout world history, from the Soviet Union to Australia, but you don't even have to look that far. New York state was confiscating guns in April of this year.

It can and has happened here. The NRA would be incompetent if they didn't use every tool at their disposal to deliver their gun rights message to those most interested in preserving them.

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posted by JohnE. at 01:45 PM

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