The NSA is monitoring phone calls and data, the Internet is an open book to the government and recently we learned that Uncle Sam has been tracking our vehicles. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The Justice Department has been building a national database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., a secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists.” We are continually assured this is for own safety; the government is not opposed to the citizens’ rights, it is only looking to protect us with the data.
At the same time, we are told there isn’t a governmental assault on the Second Amendment. The government is not overtly or covertly trying to suppress gun ownership or form any secret list of gun owners. However, new revelations developed over the last week or so that would make you question the government’s sincerity.
Now personally, I feel it is my duty to earn a spot on at least one government watch list. I might even be suspect of anyone else who wasn’t! However, that does not excuse the government’s behavior nor are the events of late anything to laugh about. The ACLU is not exactly a favorite organization of many, however occasionally, it does come across a gem. This is one of those gems and it should scare every law-abiding gun owner.
Recently, the ACLU received documents from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It would seem the DEA was planning on, or at least contemplating, using Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs or LPRs) to gather intelligence about whose cars were attending gun shows. The emails obtained in the FOIA were highly redacted which makes getting the whole scoop difficult if not down right impossible, but suggests the program was well past the brainstorming stages.
“DEA Phoenix Division Office is working closely with ATF on attacking the guns going to [redacted] and the gun shows to include programs/operation with LPRs at the gun shows.”
And what would the surveillance have shown? It would not have proved I was at the gun show. There would have been no sorting of who was there for legal or illegal purposes. It would not have even shown that I was there at all. My truck has never bought or sold a gun (even if it does regularly haul them for me); so, what would be the point? My purpose for being at the show could have been as a vendor selling popcorn, parking attendant, grounds maintenance or lawful consumer.
The ACLU makes much the same point, “An automatic license plate reader cannot distinguish between people transporting illegal guns and those transporting legal guns, or no guns at all; it only documents the presence of any car driving to the event. Mere attendance at a gun show, it appeared, would have been enough to have one’s presence noted in a DEA database.” That is the danger of the wholesale collection of information without a defined, targeted purpose. The DEA would be spending our tax dollars, gaining no actionable intelligence, lumping lawful gun owners and citizens onto a list and tromping on our civil rights.
The political motivations are easy to see. For years now, lawmakers in Washington D.C. have been targeting gun shows and labeling them as “Illegal Arms Bazaars.” If, instead of rhetoric, the same lawmakers would look at the government’s own numbers they would have realized the futility of their folly. According to the Department of Justice, criminals very seldom obtain guns from gun shows. A DOJ survey of state and federal inmates showed less than 1 percent of criminals acquired a firearm from a gun show and used it to commit their crime. However, why use hard numbers and logic when you can spend tax dollars and target law-abiding gun owners?
The very fact that the DEA was involved at all is puzzling. Wouldn’t the ATF seem a more likely candidate? However, when asked, DOJ officials quickly denied any BATFE involvement in the LPR scheme. This is not much of a surprise when you look at other tidbits of news. The DOJ has become a collection point and distribution center for many agencies and departments. The Wall Street Journal explained the broad contours of DOJ LPR surveillance. It went on to detail the wide availability of the collected data, writing, “Many state and local law-enforcement agencies are accessing the database for a variety of investigations… putting a wealth of information in the hands of local officials who can track vehicles in real time on major roadways.” It further noted the national database, “allows any police agency that participates to quickly search records of many states for information about a vehicle.” This means local law enforcement could use the data or list well outside of the scope of the original interest of the data collection.
The fact the government would even propose such targeting smacks of gun registration and harkens back to the use of the IRS to target specific political groups. It not only threatens our Second Amendment rights, it also has serious implications to the First, Fourth, Fifth… Does the right to the freedom of association and the organization of peaceable assembly without the boot of governmental spying on our throats ring any bells? Many attendees to gun shows neither buy nor sell guns while attending. It is a gathering of like-minded competition shooters, self-defense enthusiasts, hunters, law enforcement, jewelry vendors, food concessions and military historians just to name a few.
This dovetails with the FDIC’s recent admission of wrongdoing in its discriminatory practices in relation to products and services connected to the firearms industry aptly named “Operation Chokepoint.” These are just a couple of the recent examples of the government’s assault on the Second Amendment that recently came to light. While it is important to support our national organizations, it is also important to stay informed and get the word out, so be sure to share this information with your friends.
Do you believe the DOJ’s proposal was politically motivated, an intentional assault on the Second Amendment, or was it something else. Share your thoughts in the comment section.
Growing up in Pennsylvania’s game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!