James Bond author Ian Fleming wrote, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” It could be time for New Zealand gun owners to start getting suspicious.
On July 26, the New Zealand Herald reported that the country’s new Firearms Safety Authority had compromised the personal information of more than 100 gun owners. The paper explained,
In an email sent shortly after noon on Wednesday, seen by the Herald, Auckland Central Police District firearms staff emailed more than 100 gun owners to warn them their listed firearms licence address may not be up to date.
Their email addresses, in many cases including their first and last names, were visible in the cc field, rather than hidden in the bcc section.
The visible addresses included various prominent Auckland residents, including lawyers, company directors, police officers and government officials.
The Firearm Safety Authority described the data breach as an “error.”
The Herald quoted one gun owner as saying, “Gangs and criminals would no doubt love to get a copy of this shopping list, and now my information, the fact I’m a license holder, has been sent to 100 people whom I do not know.” The paper went on to explain that this gun owner “said the leak of the list of owners was exactly the reason he was worried about handing his details over to the new firearms register.”
This isn’t the first time New Zealand has had a problem securing gun owner data.
Police have revealed the details of around 400 gun owners - including names and possibly the types of firearms they had - were stolen from the old Auckland police station.
Sensitive documents were being stored inside the dilapidated and disused former Auckland City police station where staff no longer work.
The Newshub piece quoted Council of Licensed Firearms Owners Spokesperson Hugh Devereux-Mack, who said, “This makes firearms owners feel incredibly unsafe because the police have let us down in a way that puts a target on our backs for organised crime.”
At the time, the authorities told Newshub that “the chance of paperwork being stolen will be greatly reduced as the new gun register will be a digital system.” Ironic, given recent events.
In 2019, information connected to New Zealand’s mandatory gun “buyback” (gun confiscation) program was compromised. On December 2, 2019, The Guardian published a piece titled, “New Zealand's gun buyback website 'a shopping list for criminals.’” The outlet reported, “a gun lobby group said it had spoken to 15 people who were able to access information on a website where firearms owners registered weapons to be relinquished. It included their names, addresses, dates of birth, firearms licence numbers and bank account details, the group said.”
When confronted with the security breach, officials acknowledged the leak, but attempted to shift blame to a government contractor hired to create the website. The Guardian item explained,
New Zealand’s deputy police commissioner, Mike Clement, said an update on the buyback scheme’s website last week had caused personal information to be revealed more widely than it should have been. He blamed the software provider…
Of course, New Zealand isn’t the only jurisdiction incapable of safeguarding gun owner data. Stateside, California has proven itself a model of incompetence.
In June 2022, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the launch of the California Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Firearms Dashboard Portal. The data tool 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.
Explaining some of the extent of the breach, an article from firearms news outlet The Reload explained,
The Reload reviewed a copy of the Lost Angeles County database and found 244 judge permits listed in the database. The files included the home addresses, full names, and dates of birth for all of them. The same was true for seven custodial officers, 63 people with a place of employment permit, and 420 reserve officers.
2,891 people in Los Angeles County with standard licenses also had their information compromised by the leak, though the database appears to include some duplicate entries as well.
At the time, NRA was independently contacted by a concerned California resident who provided the organization with an image containing some of the leaked information, including gun owners’ full names and dates of birth.
Despite California’s proven inability to protect gun owner data, on July 26 the L.A. Times published what is ostensibly a news article whining, “The GOP and the NRA want to stop gun violence research. California is a target.” The implication of the piece was that gun rights supporters oppose California-style gun and gun owner registries because doing so denies such data to social “science” researchers.
This is incorrect. Gun rights supporters oppose gun and gun owner registries because of the potential for official and unofficial abuse.
Gun rights supporters correctly understand that such registries facilitate gun confiscation.
For example, New York City has twice used its gun registry to confiscate arms. Starting in 1967, the Big Apple required residents to register their rifles and shotguns. Then, in 1991, the city banned certain configurations of semi-automatic firearms. The city used its registry to inform those with offending firearms that their guns needed to be removed from the city, disabled or forfeited to law enforcement. The city employed this tactic again as recently as 2013, following the reclassification of another group of rifles.
Second, gun owners, just like other Americans, value their privacy. Whether that privacy is from malevolent government officials or criminals looking for a score, privacy has value – as evidenced by the existence of the Fourth Amendment. In the context of a person exercising a Constitutional right, privacy should be guaranteed. Inhibiting the collection of this data is the only way to adequately ensure this privacy.
The L.A. Times and the anti-gun “researchers” (advocates) it cites appear to take the position that it is their right to pry into the private behavior of law-abiding gun owners, as if this data were akin to the minutes of a city hall meeting. Rather, this data, in the unfortunate event it is collected, represents the private Constitutionally-protected conduct of private citizens and should be treated in the most confidential manner. One imagines these same actors would have a very different take on a government keeping and disseminating records on abortions, book purchases, or protest attendance.
Despite what some self-centered anti-gun advocates might think, the primary goal of restricting government recordkeeping of gun and gun owner data is to protect gun owners, not to deprive these activists of data. The fact that privacy measures make it harder for these gun control campaigners to concoct junk science aimed at advocating against Second Amendment rights is a side benefit.
As both New Zealand and California show, the only sure way to safeguard gun owner data is to not collect it at all.