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Another Cautionary Tale About Registration

Monday, March 13, 2023

Another Cautionary Tale About Registration

There are myriad lessons to be learned from how gun owners are treated in other countries. Perhaps the most important one is: We must always be thankful our nation’s Founders had the foresight to recognize the importance of enshrining the protection of our right to arms in the Second Amendment.

Afghanistan gives us the most recent reason to be thankful.

A recent Washington Times story notes that the Taliban is using records of firearms owners as one method to track down those who worked with Americans during our country’s time in Afghanistan, then “target them for retribution, according to a U.S. government report.”

What may befall these individuals is anybody’s guess, but the Taliban has an appalling track record when it comes to how it treats those it considers to be a threat to the regime, or even those it simply feels may not comport to their particular ideology.

Of course, Americans have the luxury of many safeguards against a brutal, tyrannical government rising to power. We have a fairly solid blueprint for our Great Republic, but we also have tools designed for the people to use; such as regular elections, free speech, a free press, the freedom to assemble, the freedom to state grievances to our elected officials…the list goes on and on, and it is unlikely any of those freedoms exist under the Taliban.

But the lynchpin of our freedoms is the Second Amendment.

The lesson of the Taliban using records of gun owners to target what it perceives to be threats to its rule is twofold. First, there’s the obvious implication that disarming armed citizens will harden the hold the Taliban has on the country. Whether or not there are sufficient privately held arms among the Afghan people to be able to resist the Taliban is unknown, as it is unknown whether there are enough Afghan people with the resolve to effectively resist.

But perhaps a more pertinent lesson to be learned from the story about Afghanistan is the danger of any government—regardless of whether or not it is tyrannical—keeping lists of its law-abiding citizens.

There is no reason for a government to maintain a list of law-abiding gun owners; unless, of course, you wish to target them for some reason—nefarious or otherwise. And that is exactly why registration of guns and/or gun owners has been a key component of the anti-gun movement for many decades.

Rather than the more difficult task of navigating the legislative process to make illegal any activity they find repugnant—like owning guns, or carrying them for personal protection—these extremists try to diminish such activities through other means, such as the more malleable bureaucratic process, that may be more readily achievable. We have seen this with the Obama/Biden Administration’s Operation Choke Point, which was designed to weaponize the banking industry and financial service providers against the firearms industry, as well as other disfavored, but lawful, businesses and merchants.

While this federal program was eliminated after the Obama/Biden team left office, it seems Biden may be interested in restoring it, now that he is again occupying the White House, based on the fact he has wanted the person originally tasked with implementing Choke Point to head the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

So, if some anti-gun elected officials and bureaucrats are willing to use government resources in an attempt to disrupt an entire segment of lawful industry, is it much of a stretch to imagine they might do the same to law-abiding citizens who engage in completely legal activities, simply because these activities are frowned upon by those who have no respect or understanding of the Second Amendment?

Probably not. In fact, we just reported on Biden’s Department of Defense (DoD) funding a report that looks like a perfect roadmap for harassing law-abiding gun owners that serve, or have served, in our Armed Forces.

Which brings us back to the lesson to be learned in Afghanistan. Again, our point isn’t that we fear the current administration will suddenly turn into a totalitarian nightmare, then target law-abiding gun owners for something like whatever the Taliban has in mind.

Our point is that, based on how the Obama/Biden team tried to disrupt a legal industry because it didn’t like it, and based on how Biden seems interested in doing the same—or expanding his agenda to go after veterans and current soldiers—why would we not think Biden would be willing to abuse the federal bureaucracy to make the lives of all law-abiding gun owners uncomfortable?

And if you need any more evidence that anti-gun lawmakers will do whatever they can to disrupt the lives of those law-abiding gun owners, just look at California; the national petri dish for anti-gun experimentation.

In what appears to be the next phase of harassing—or, more likely eradicating—the lawful firearms industry, legislation has been introduced that would require “every aspect” of California’s sprawling portfolio of public spending – including municipal bonds, capital projects, investments, pension systems, and more – to “cut off business with any banks or lenders with business customers that manufacture firearms.”

But anti-gun extremists in California are not just going after the firearms industry with this harassment campaign. In September 2021, California enacted a law that allows for the disclosure of highly sensitive information of those Californians who choose to exercise their right protected under the Second Amendment. The information includes a gun owner’s name, address, place of birth, phone number, occupation, driver’s license or ID number, race, sex, height, weight, hair color, eye color, and even their social security number and types of firearms that they own, and would be made available to universities and any “bona fide research institute.” California is one of the few states that has implemented firearm registration, so it is one of the few states that can make available such information.

While NRA filed litigation over this law in defense of gun owner privacy—the information should not even exist in a database, let alone be made available to those outside the government—a separate incident showed the danger of government lists of law-abiding citizens. In June 2022, the California Department of Justice was caught exposing the personal information of countless law-abiding gun owners when it launched its Firearms Dashboard Portal.

This data tool—unrelated to the personal information the state wants to hand over to “researchers”—was designed to give granular firearm transaction and Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) permit holder data to anyone visiting the DOJ’s website. However, astute users quickly realized that the dashboard could be used to access the personally identifying information of California CCW holders—including date of birth, full name, and address.

The portal was removed from the DOJ website after news of the data leak broke, and, thankfully, has not returned. In November 2022, the DOJ announced that an independent study indicated the data leak was not intentional.

But if the California DOJ cannot ensure the personal information it holds of private, law-abiding citizens is secure, why would anyone think any university or “bona fide research institute” will be any more careful? What would prevent any professor, student, or “bona fide research institute” that simply does not like law-abiding gun owners from being just as careless with the personal data at their disposal?

This isn’t even the first time the problem of access to government records of law-abiding gun owners has reared its ugly head. In late 2012, the New York newspaper The Journal News made national headlines by posting the personal information of the pistol-permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties. As if the stunt were intended to create a shopping list for criminals, the short-lived harassment campaign even featured a map of pistol-permit holder addresses.

These types of data leaks of the personal information of law-abiding gun owners have been shockingly common over the years, which led to NRA promoting legislation to protect gun owner privacy in many states, as well as the federal level.

Ultimately, though NRA has long been opposed to registration schemes because they are often the first step taken towards the final goal of banning, then confiscating, any firearms (which often means all firearms) a particular government determines to be unacceptable to be owned by civilians. Early anti-gun extremists pointed out, in the 1970s, the incremental steps that need to be taken to first restrict access to guns, then register them, then confiscate them.

“The first problem is to slow down the number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. The final problem is to make possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition—except for the military, police, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs and licensed gun collectors—totally illegal.”—Pete Shields, former president of the Brady Campaign.

We’ve seen this technique play out in foreign countries, like Australia and Great Britain, as well as in certain parts of the United States, like New York City. You can find an excellent piece on the registration-to-confiscation scheme by noted researcher, author, and lawyer David Kopel here.

Even today, we see the same attempt to exploit registration schemes to implement bans and confiscation coming out of Connecticut.

So, while there are likely many lessons to be learned regarding what happens in Afghanistan, let’s be thankful our Founders put the Second Amendment into our Constitution to ensure that one of the lessons currently being learned over there is the fallacy that firearm registration schemes will not be abused to the detriment of law-abiding gun owners.

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