Gun Laws & Legislation

The battle against mass government surveillance

Chris Cox Executive Director, NRA's Institute for Legislative Action
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It’s no secret that national gun registration is a long-standing aspiration for the gun control crowd. For decades, anti-gun politicians have clamored to know who owns guns, how many, what kind and where they’re kept. But there’s never a good answer about why they want to know these sensitive details. They just want to know.

Of course, history has proven gun registration has been the precursor to confiscation in multiple instances. But the dangers posed to our rights by a national gun registry aren’t limited to confiscation.  And those dangers aren’t linked solely to the existence of a gun registry, either. There now exist many other forms of data that can indicate gun ownership. And none of them are the government’s business.

That’s why NRA has filed a brief in support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA). The lawsuit challenges the NSA’s collection of “metadata” about every phone call placed in the United States. Other evidence has emerged to indicate that NSA also collects data in many other ways as well. The NSA has created this massive surveillance program to gather as much information as possible about every single person in the United States—just in case it needs the information later. Or so the government claims.

First among the “Purposes and Objectives” listed in NRA bylaws is “[t]o protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” And the Congress has long acknowledged that government record-keeping on gun owners inhibits the exercise of Second Amendment rights. At the outset of the modern debate over firearm regulation, both the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted down proposals to require the registration of guns as part of the Gun Control Act of 1968.

We honestly don’t even know the scope of the NSA’s surveillance program. But the little we do know poses a threat to your Second Amendment rights.

Here’s why. The surveillance could allow identification of NRA members, supporters, potential members and other persons with whom the NRA communicates. That could have a “chilling” effect on their willingness to communicate with the NRA.

But the NSA mass surveillance program is even more insidious, because there is no knowledge of the disclosure. It is both involuntary and universal. It’s even more chilling to consider that NSA believes it has the authority to gather emails, internet browsing records, social media posts and even mobile phone location information. So it’s entirely possible that NSA has already collected the records of everyone who has been in contact with NRA by phone, email, Facebook and Twitter, visited our shooting range or museum, or even just visited any of our websites.

That’s just what’s possible if the NSA has been following its own guidelines. Investigative journalists have reported that an NSA audit found it broke its own privacy rules thousands of times per year.

Privacy is a major concern in today’s data driven society, and not just for gun owners. All of us receive a torrent of notices about the privacy practices of the companies with which we do business, as mandated by federal law. And NRA’s legal brief takes up seven pages to describe the additional privacy protections that Congress has enacted to specifically protect the privacy of gun owners—most of them hard-fought legislative battles. But the government’s mass surveillance program could allow the easy identification of gun owners, contrary to all the privacy protections enacted by the Congress.

Some will always believe that the government should have as much information as possible about you, in case it can help you. But our Constitution was written from the perspective that the more information the government has about you, the more it can hurt you. That’s why the Founders enacted the Bill of Rights, and that’s why your NRA has put its strength into the battle against mass government surveillance of innocent, law-abiding citizens.

Chris Cox is the executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. His column appears in American Rifleman and American Hunter. Join the NRA and receive a $10 discount on your annual membership – click here.

Chris Cox