Did you know that political campaigns, influential lobbies, and business in various industries collect and maintain data on people they’re trying to influence? Wait, you did?
Well, then, we’re pretty much done here.
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.
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.
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…
“We’ve been doing this since the old days,” [former NRA lobbyist Richard] Feldman said. “You could obtain from most states the listings of hunter licenses from the Department of Wildlife and Conservations. It was sort of amazing what we knew about people from that. There were early doe permit holders, black powder holders, so many different seasons. It was a lot of data.”
Yep — just like Team Obama did last year. And in my experience, reaction among grassroots conservatives to O’s big data operation has been mostly jealousy and awe, in contrast to most ambitious Hopenchange initiatives. This is not, in other words, a case of righties warning darkly that data-mining by private actors (including an opponent’s presidential campaign) is something to be discouraged and then opportunistically carving out an exception for the NRA. It’s more a case of righties wondering why all right-wing groups, especially Mitt “Managerial Genius” Romney’s campaign, aren’t as good at this as Obama and the NRA are. Where’s the hypocrisy?
The “news” here, I guess, is that there’s hypocrisy by the NRA insofar as (a) they’re culling information on gun owners from the sort of state gun registries they oppose and (b) they’re using that info to build their own quasi-registry. But who cares if they’re exploiting a policy they oppose to try to build consensus to overturn that policy? Ask a liberal who supports tax hikes why he doesn’t pay more taxes voluntarily and he’ll probably say that he’s using some of the money he saved to donate to Democratic pols who’ll help him achieve his broader policy goal. Same thing here: The NRA sometimes loses the political argument against local registries, but they can use a tool their opponents have given them to win long-term. As for building a quasi-registry, unless I missed something, the NRA’s never objected to, say, gun manufacturers keeping marketing data on their customers. The problem with a government gun registry, as Ekdahl says, is that it could lead conceivably to confiscation or imprisonment. Which, of course, also explains why people are freaking out about what the NSA knows about them compared to what, say, Google knows. The objection isn’t that data on gun owners is being collected, it’s by who and to what end.
Exit question: What’s the more quintessential August “news” story, Ted Cruz’s citizenship status or this?