NRA's 'Vast, Secret Database' of Gun Owners Elicits Collective Yawn

Last week's BuzzFeed expose revealing the National Rifle Association maintains a "vast, secret database" of firearms owners while campaigning aggressively against proposed government-compiled firearms registries has not generated the outrage among gun owners that gun control proponents hoped it would.

In an August 20 BuzzFeed column, freelance write Steve Friess wrote that the NRA maintains "the country's largest privately held database of current, former, and prospective gun owners" at its Virginia headquarters.

The database, he writes, was compiled 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.

The database "is one of the powerful lobby's secret weapons, expanding its influence well beyond its estimated 3 million members and bolstering its political supremacy," Friess writes. "The result: a big data powerhouse that deploys the same high-tech tactics all year round that the vaunted Obama campaign used to win two presidential elections."

Politics 101
Most gun owners, while acknowledging the irony in the NRA compiling lists of gun owners to rally against the government compiling lists of gun owners, shrugged off the revelations as Politics 101.

"Is this sinister? Or just smart politics?" asks Jim Geraghty in an August 21 National Review Online column. "The purchasing of magazine subscriber lists -- hey, that's been around for a long time."

"I can't wait for the next installment," writes Lee Williams, "The Gun Writer," in his August 21 column in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. "Hopefully the author will go after Amazon.com for keeping a secret list of book owners, or AARP for compiling sensitive data on suspicious seniors. I'm sure Ikea maintains a secret list of people who enjoy cheap furniture with strange, foreign-sounding names."

Geraghty, Williams and others note that there are important distinctions between private organization collecting information to bolster its membership and efficacy and the government compiling a national registry of firearms and firearms owners.

"They're not government agents," Williams writes. "I'm not too concerned about armed members of the NRA barging into my home and violating my Fourth Amendment rights."

"It's astronomically unlikely that the NRA would ever use this data as part of an effort of national gun confiscation," Geraghty writes, noting Friess' article "seems to emphasize the theme of hypocrisy, or to suggest that gun owners should be, or will be, up in arms about the NRA using all this data to beat back gun-control efforts. Somehow, I suspect that a lot of gun owners will respond, 'Well, it's about time!'"

As of August 27, the NRA had not officially commented on the BuzzFeed story on its website or in a press release.

**The What Ifs **
While Friess' article has elicited little more than a collective yawn from most gun owners, not all Second Amendment advocates are as ambivalent.

National Association for Gun Rights Executive Director Dudley Brown told Buzz Feed's Kate Nocera in an August 22 article that the NRA tactics in collecting data are "unprincipled."

Brown has accused the NRA of secretly conducting "backroom deals" on gun legislation rather than joining with them to lobby for nationwide constitutional carry, which "removes the database issue."

"I don't want the government to know I have a gun, and I certainly don't want it broadcast and advertised. We know the NSA is on everything, but the fact is, so is the NRA," Brown said.

Others fear the NRA's database could, as they say, fall into the wrong hands, especially since the Patriot Act apparently allows the federal government to force private entities to turn over user and customer data.

"Gun owners should be careful not to feel too comfortable with the NRA database," writes Sam Rolley on August 22 in Personal Liberty Digest. "The lobbying group may end up shooting its supporters in the foot, having already done the dirty work if the National Security Agency should decide it would like a gun owner database of its own."