A new investigative report says that the National Rifle Association collects and maintains an expansive database of information on gun owners.
BuzzFeed contributor Steve Friess reports that the NRA keeps the stockpile of information at its national headquarters in Virginia and that it goes well beyond the group’s estimated 3 million members.
“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,” Friess writes.
Defenders of the policy note that the NRA is a private organization and therefore its efforts to collect information on gun owners is not a contradiction to its opposition to a government mandated gun ownership registry.
“It’s probably partially true that people don’t know the information is being collected,” former NRA lobbyist Richard Feldman told BuzzFeed. “But even if they don’t know it, they probably won’t care because the NRA is not part of the government.”
The story has also sparked a reaction from NRA supporters who argue that the NRA’s database is more of a marketing tool than an actual “gun registry." The conservative Ace of Spades blog writes, “There's a world of difference. The ‘gun owner’ classification is mostly assumed, based on interests and behavior. It's not even particularly important to the NRA whether they are gun owners, so long as they have an interest in gun rights and the second amendment.”
Information obtained for the report shows that the NRA has purchased lists of gun owners from state governments in Virginia and Iowa, and uses its own relationship with states through licensed gun safety instructors to collect the information, often without the knowledge or consent of those on the lists.
Other states including Arkansas, Louisiana, Oregon and Tennessee have received similar information requestsfrom the NRA.
“There’s nothing that prevents them from mailing those people,” Feldman said. “The more you know about people, the more targeted the message you can communicate with them, the more the message will resonate with them.”
Feldman says he estimates the NRA has files on “tens of millions” of individuals.
In February, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said gun background checks were tantamount to creating a national gun registry. The website FactCheck.org said that was a false claim, noting that current federal law prohibits the government from creating a national gun registry.
A 2009 email obtained by BuzzFeed shows a representative from a private firm hired by the NRA reaching out to Virginia government officials for access to lists containing the names of concealed carry permit owners.
“Can you please let me know if you offer 2008 and/or 2009 names?” Preferred Communications' Michele Wood wrote to the Virginia State Police on behalf of the NRA. “Can you please let me know the address to send the check to and also whom to make it payable to?”
In a separate email, NRA lobbyist Christopher Rager wrote to the Iowa Department of Public Safety making a similar request.
“If the NRA wanted to collect data from DPS’ permit holder files, is there a specific process or any rules for us to acquire the records?” Rager reportedly wrote. “Can we pay to have the files copied or sent to us?”
When BuzzFeed reached out to the NRA about its information gathering policies, spokesman Andrew Arulanandam reportedly declined, saying, “That’s not any of your business.”