Kill Privacy -- Kill Gun Rights



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By Claire Wolfe, June 21st 2014
JPFO writer contributor, © 2014.

Gun rights have long been my heart's cause. As with many of you, my line in the sand is drawn around the right to own and use firearms. But it's the Fourth Amendment, not the Second, that I keep as my email signature.

The Fourth, with its assumption that our private information and private possessions belong to us and can't be taken by government without wrongdoing on our part plus rigorous due process on government's part, is even more vital than the Second.

Without privacy, there will ultimately be no gun rights. Just as the Second Amendment protects all the rest, the Fourth protects the Second.*

This is why it's so horrifying to watch major players in the gun-rights world urge that we preemptively surrender to universal background checks. This is also why it's vital to push back against other violations, such as governments taking free rein to track everyone's purchases, travels, and communications.

Universal background checks (UBC) presume the exact opposite of what the Fourth Amendment supposedly ensures. They presuppose that government has the authority to know what we own and even has legitimate authority to deny us ownership. (That the denials may be based on faulty data or even political pressure is another issue; important but beyond the scope of this article.)

Furthermore, omni-surveillance of our daily activities is not only illegitimate on the face of it, but it can further be used to target and damage us, personally or universally as gun owners.

Given how much tyrants and hoplophobes hate and fear weapons in private hands, the rape of our privacy can -- and inevitably will -- be used against us.

Universal background checks

Even after being thoroughly humiliated last year for allying himself with Charles Schumer on universal background checks, Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation/Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms came out again this spring promoting the same idea. He says that gun-rights people need to "lead" on imposing background checks so that gun owners can ensure that UBC laws contain at least a few features favorable to us.

Although he's vague about how exactly a UBC law could be written to protect gun rights, this seems to imply provisions like mandating that data continue to be destroyed after the check is complete, allowing police to buy personal weapons without being subject to the same laws that govern the rest of us, and allowing transfers between close family members.

Never mind that you'd have to be incredibly naive to believe that the federal government would, in the long term, continue to destroy data on gun owners. (The current instant-check also mandates destroying data, but already both the FBI and ATF have been caught eagerly gathering or retaining data in defiance of law.) And heaven knows what the NSA or other unaccountable alphabet-soup agencies are doing with existing data. So the FBI might actually, honorably delete our information? What good does that do if the NSA or some other agency has already grabbed and stored it forever?

Never mind that police are not supposed to be some superior class, exempt from laws that harm the rest of us. Never mind that the government has no business "allowing" (or forbidding) a father to give a gun to his son or daughter.

This entire position is premised on the belief that universal background checks are inevitable and that there's no point opposing them. It's precisely the viewpoint of the horrible old joke that used to be made about rape: When rape is inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.

No victim ever enjoyed rape. It's a ghastly, cruel crime that inflicts nothing but pain and terror. Likewise, no gun owner will ever benefit from a centralized, government-controlled UBC system. (There are more private ways to handle background checks, but these also have their pitfalls and in any case don't seem to be under consideration.)

And despite the belief of the self-named "pragmatists," universal background checks are not inevitable. That belief is based solely on the claim, drawn from post-Newtown opinion polls, that some vast percentage of the American public wants the checks. But polls can generate biased, highly changeable results that often completely flip when realities are explained. They don't predict anything.

175The old, post-Newtown polls have just given some "gun-rights advocates" an excuse to align themselves with Schumer and now Bloomberg, who says he's putting $50 million of his own money into more antigunnery, particularly UBC laws. Unfortunately, Gottlieb isn't alone. Despite "officially" opposing or at least being cautious about UCB, both the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the NRA have been spotted recently in "compromising positions." (They are advocating FixNICS, which isn't as drastic as UBC, but still creates more prohibited persons, including many who may be completely harmless.)

And how will this turn out for us in the long run? If the anti-gunners and the allegedly pro-gun compromisers get their way, there will be permanent databases of gun purchases, because that's how governments play the game, period. Those formerly law-abiding people who want to preserve their privacy will become criminals. The costs of firearms (both in money and regulatory burden) will increase. Lawsuits will proliferate. More innocent people will be forbidden to buy guns. And since none of this will in any way reduce violence, the anti-gunners and their supposedly pro-gun collaborators will still howl for more restrictions on gun ownership.

Perhaps scariest of all, any time some gun-hostile, rights hostile bureaucrat or "leader" wants to put an end to legal gun sales, all that person has to do is "break" the checking system.

Oops, sorry, the UBC system is down for reasons beyond our control. We promise to have it back up and running soon. Very soon, we assure you. And again, never mind if the law is written to allow sales to proceed when the system is down. We've already seen, again via the current national instant-check system (NICS), that when the system goes down, those governed by it are too frightened or cautious to conduct their perfectly legal business -- business that remains legal, though slower, even when NICS is down.

Other privacy abuses

We don't know -- we have no idea at all -- who within the U.S. federal government is spying on our everyday activities and what information they're gathering on us. This is already, all by itself, an outrage. It is far from government of, by, and for "the people."

That federal agencies actively resist revealing the extent of their surveillance is a further abuse the Bill of Rights and makes a mockery of our much-vaunted "democracy."

An unaccountable government with an insatiable craving for information on every living person and every act we perform isn't good for anybody, in any way.

But as gun owners and people who care about Second Amendment rights, we should be especially alarmed and especially vigilant. We are already hated by powerful people. We are already called "terrorists." We are already demonized. Just this week a future presidential candidate decreed that we're so horrible we shouldn't even be allowed to have our opinions, let alone our arms.

What happens to us and our rights when federal officials, elected or hiding behind bureaucratic walls and "black budgets" not only know that we own guns and which guns we own, but also know when we purchase ammo, what meetings we attend, who we gather with, what medications we take, whether we've bought military gear or preparedness supplies, every opinion we express, what our physician's records say about us, whether we were disruptive in school (yes, that "permanent record" they always threatened us with is now a reality), or whether we're having an affair or indulging in some other forbidden activity (excellent for blackmail, libel, or creating a convenient criminal case)?

We're rushing heedlessly into a world where government knows all about us while we're increasingly denied information about government. This turns the Bill of Rights and the entire meaning of "government by the people" on its head. This is a terrible, terrible thing for everyone. But for those in a targeted group -- like gun owners -- the potential damage is unthinkable.

At the will and whim of government, we can be individually stopped from legally buying or owning guns. We can be framed, harassed, and prosecuted using secret (or even secretly manufactured) data. En masse, gun businesses can be shut down with the simple claim of a "computer glitch." Gun owners and dealers can -- again by mere will or whim -- find our bank accounts closed or frozen, our credit cards non-functional, our paychecks nullified, or a thousand other forms of mischief that are trivial for those with their hands on the controls of the data, but horrendous for anyone on the receiving end of the abuse.

In the long run, if we don't preserve what's left of our privacy and our private information -- and aggressively take back what's been stolen by secret, illegitimate surveillance and control -- then we and our rights are doomed.

Fight for the Second Amendment. But fight for privacy with equal passion. Without the Fourth and everything it implies, the Second can be blown away like a dry leaf in the wind.


* Of course, neither the Second nor the Fourth Amendments actually protect anything. Nor, of course, do they grant anything. The Bill of Rights is nothing but a 222-year-old expression of belief that indiviuals possess inborn freedoms that no legitimate government would try to take away. The rights themselves existed before the document was written, but will survive in the real world only as long as we remain a powerful, unknowable, and uncontrollable force.

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Claire Wolfe hit the Internet back in 1996 with 101 Things to do 'Til the Revolution, which was followed by several other books. She came to the attention of JPFO's founder, Aaron Zelman, and became one of his main writing partners for seven years. Together they authored The State vs the People and the young-adult novel RebelFire: Out of the Gray Zone. She is the author of The Freedom Outlaw's Handbook (successor to 101 Things), writes a monthly column in S.W.A.T. magazine and blogs regularly at Backwoods Home. The Claire Wolfe Archive

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