Privacy and Gun Control

Friday, January 11, 2013


On Thursday, Vice President Biden sketched out early hints of what gun control reform might look like. One potential reform concerns something that you might mistakenly assume already exists: a central database of gun transactions in the US, maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The NRA has blocked all such efforts in the past. New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg tells Bob why the ATF's record-keeping on gun sales is actually incredibly antiquated. 


Sheryl Gay Stolberg

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [17]

Michael Y from Switzerland

It is too dangerous to have the rapists, murderers and thugs have easy access to information about gun owners.

But is not too dangerous to have the rapists, murderers and thugs have easy access to guns?


Jan. 19 2013 05:57 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven. CT

I like the way Cheshyre thinks, though anyone who uses the word revolt rather than revolution earns points with me.

Meanwhile the gun lobby, which is really the military/industrial complex, has cowed the press far more than it has even politicians. Look at the corporate ads on serious news programs. Where would the t.v. business be without this revenue stream? How can we trust a media so cowed to champion for an effective weapons database?

Watching the Johns Hopkins conference on gun violence on C-SPAN2, Dr. Wintenmute mentioned the eerie location of the National Sports Shooting Foundation very near the Sandy Hook school to which the speaker imagined some of the parents of those murdered children might have worked.

It reminded me of a review of John Guarre's then-new, play The House of Blue Leaves as having a ludicrously unrealistic violent plot. As I pointed out to the New Haven Journal-Courier and its audience, in the same paper, on different pages and unrelated by editors. were two stories about a man whose publishing company was delaying a book release by Patty Hearst's personal California State Highway Patrolwoman on their time together as the publisher could not attend the release party the day before while the other story told of his murder at a toy manufacturing firm where one of his toy designers had come armed to the teeth and murdered several others. Guarre's play was more understandable than either these events or the paper's inattention.

Long against gun violence, I know one can't legislate morality. Sadly, citizens are voting with their feet directly to gun dealers. Thus, we can't count on legislative measures, Executive Action is necessary. Establishing a database comes first!

Jan. 16 2013 06:33 PM
Will Caxton

Take note of a couple of things that were not said. It was said that the US Federal government does not have a central database of (legal, registered) gun owners, guns, or gun purchases. That is true. One thing not mentioned was whether states have such databases. More importantly, there was no explanation of why it's a problem that the Federal government does not have such a database, so we don't know what problems, if any, would be solved by such a central database. Apparently, we need it because it's on CSI (even though it's usually not useful, even on CSI). Also not mentioned were costs and problems caused by national registration. Canada tried to create a national gun registry. The project cost vastly more than initially estimated, non-compliance was estimated at 70%, and the benefits were debatable. And Canada has about 1/10 the population of the US.

Jan. 15 2013 12:29 PM

To be honest, I find the idea of standing up to the US government to be, frankly, laughable.

Let's see how well your semi-automatic rifle does against a squadron of B-2 bombers.
Or a tank.
Or a rocket barrage.
Or a nuclear bomb. (Because if the government has no qualms about killing its own people, it will have no problem with a nuclear show of force, either, so long as the wind is blowing towards the rebels.)

Unless a significant portion of US citizens also own tanks, the fight with their own government will be three things:

The only thing we'd have in our favor is sheer numbers. But that only goes so far when your government owns a button that can erase cities.

All that aside, I still believe in the 2nd amendment. Should we be more cautious about who we give these weapons to? Yes. Do I think they need regular mental health screenings to continue to hold a license? Yes.
Because while I think it's okay for Joe-schmoe gun enthusiast to own a gun,
I don't really want Crazy Frank who thinks the government is brainwashing us all into being more communistic, to have a gun.
Just my thoughts on the situation.

Jan. 15 2013 12:21 PM
Steve Lubetkin from Cherry Hill, NJ

I'm not an advocate of everyone having so-called assault weapons, but I'm very confused by Ms. Stolberg's assertion -- I had to listen twice to make sure that I heard her correctly -- that the kinds of weapons used in recent massacres are NOT the kind of weapons people would want to have to overthrow a tyrannical government.

To the contrary, it seems to me that they are precisely the kind of weapons that would be useful in a revolt against a heavily armed tyrannical government. Ask the Syrian citizens revolting against their government if they would like to have assault weapons.

Jan. 14 2013 03:41 PM
Bob Gardner from Randolph, MA

First of all, deer can't read so hunting won't be affected.
Second, if guns are supposed to be a deterrent to crime, shouldn't you be glad that people know you have one? As Dr Strangelove said (in so many words) what good is a deterent that's a secret?

Jan. 14 2013 03:05 PM
Sean from San Diego

Ms. Stolberg, if you accept that the 2nd Amendment exists to allow individuals to retain weapons to enable them to rise against a tyrannical government, then how can you claim that owning clip-fed semi-automatic weapons is beyond the pale of the 2nd Amendment? The _government_ equips its forces with clip-fed _fully_ automatic weapons that by your own words "have no purpose but to kill people", but you want to handicap individual citizens by denying them weapons comparable to those that the forces they would be opposing will be carrying? That would be like competing in a NASCAR race with a dealer-stock Ford compact. The purpose of the 2nd Amendment was to ensure that individuals would retain the right to own weapons equivalent to those carried by soldiers, so that they would be on an equal footing if it became necessary to resist an oppressive government.

Jan. 13 2013 08:23 PM

One of the hosts said that obviously people do not have guns to protect them from tyranny of the government. Are you implying that the United States is somehow immune to tyranny? Many very intelligent gun owners I know state that they have a duty to have guns for protecting the United States from a tyrannical government.
I would like you to do a show on this timely and critical topic. Find a history professor and examine what happened historically after governments demanded universal gun registration.

Jan. 13 2013 05:24 PM
jason from America

No, Bob, automatic and semi-automatic are not only NOT used by any professional interchangeably, it would be fraudulently misleading, downright tortuous for them to do so. THERE ARE LAWS! covering the distinction,there is a separate class for autos with a Fed license necessary. Anyone selling a full auto as if it were semi could find themselves in jail and sued. Anyone selling a semi as if it were full auto would rightfully be sued.
I DO know a group of people who love using the terms interchangeably, those wth an anti private gun ownership agenda. They believe the confusion assists their smear campaign and your insistence that an important legal distinction is irrelevant is consistent with that narrative.
I am disappoint...

Jan. 13 2013 02:19 PM

Time and again anti-gun activists have stated that 'the first step to confiscation is registration'. And they have the British model to follow.

It's not paranoia when your opponents tell you what they want.

Jan. 13 2013 12:06 PM
Zeb from Dublin, NH

Did I just hear Bob Garfield assert that experts often use the terms "automatic" and "semi-automatic" interchangeably referring to firearms? This shows profound, and I am starting to think willful, ignorance. The distinction between automatic and semi-automatic is very clear and unambiguous. Anyone who conflates teh two terms when taking about guns cannot in any way be considered an expert. In case Mr. Garfield needs further clarification on the matter, an automatic weapon fires continuously as long as the trigger is engaged. With a semi-automatic weapon, the trigger must be pulled once to fire each round. Please correct this glaring and ridiculous inaccuracy.

Jan. 13 2013 11:01 AM

OK -- Detailed map of all Americans' medical, financial and personal behaviors.
Fine -- Detailed map of all Americans' movements over years via license plate scanning software.
No Problemo -- Perv-friendly network for adults to access kids' privates online.
DON'T YOU DARE! map of legally registered lethal weapons.

Thanks, America! For showing us the 3rd rail of privacy. (And thanks, NRA, for showing the rest of us how to legitimize literally the craziest things imaginable.) No sarcasm here -- the lessons are ours to learn or ignore.

Jan. 12 2013 10:31 PM

This segment was so poor in so many ways, it is hard to know where to start. But it centers around the lack of knowledge and understanding of basic civics and constitutional rights.

Most glaring, perhaps was the statement by Ms. Stolberg to the effect that she finds it "interesting" that the NRA objects to a central database regarding gun ownership but advocates a central database regarding people with mental health issues. While it is hard to ay strongly enough how apples and oranges these two things are, suffice it to say that owning a gun is a constitutional right while being mentally ill is not. It was simply jaw-dropping to hear this come out of a commentator's mouth, and also rather disheartening that Bob did not point this out.

Given the incredible abuse that happened in New York State by publishing the names and addresses of people that have gun permits, it is clear that the people that never wanted any kind of data base like this kept were right. That is not the same as saying there should not be background checks, but once a person has been cleared to own a gun, there should absolutely be no public database of this information. Just as one has a right to publish anything they want to say anonymously, they should also be able to own their guns anonymously. Of course to most people it sounds like right-wing nutcase blather to think we will need to defend ourselves against our own government, but of course it would until it actually becomes necessary. And as David so correctly points out, it does no good to have a peashooter against a far better armed government. Do I think the odds are very high that our government will become oppressive to the extent that revolution is needed, at least in the next generation or two? No, but that does not obviate the principal that is as valid today as it was 250 years ago.

The issue has gotten completely turned on its head when the government's registration of guns is taken as a greater right than a citizen's right to have the gun in the first place. It was a horrible mistake not to exclude these registrations from FOIA requests. That news organization might as well publish the names and addresses of people that own jewelry worth over $250,000 or anything similar to that. Yes, they are reprehensibly irresponsible, but they never should have been able to get their hands on that information. It is not a freedom of the press issue in the least, or it shouldn't be. The press is not allowed to see my tax returns without permission, and as far as I know my paying taxes is not even a constitutional right. The government's ability to tax is, but not my paying of it. That is simply a law. The whole argument is based on a false premise because it essentially ignores the fact that my having a gun (and I do not own one btw) is a fundamental right, as is my right to privacy according to the Supreme Court, and so there should be no accessible database of gun owners.

Jan. 12 2013 10:07 PM
ChuckD from Maryland

Congratulations to OTM for explaining the Second Amendment justification for "guns designed to kill people". After all, tyrants are people too. The Second Amendment says nothing like "Since farmers need guns to protect their livestock" or "Since hunters need guns to put meat on the table", or even "Since skilled marksmanship is needed for military service".

Jan. 12 2013 09:56 PM

Isn't quite "stunning" or sadly typical that the words "Fast" & "Furious" are not mentioned in this discussion about the recent failure of gun tracking?

Equally paradoxical is that the same administration that is investigating the possibility of an Executive Order to monitor guns in the U.S. this year evoked Executive Privilege to stifle an investigation concerning untraceable weapons across the Mexican border last year resulting in the AG being held in contempt of Congress.
These very recent Constitutionally questionable skirmishes concerning firearm policy and this administration seems oddly off the media radar screen in the current gun debate.

Of course if highly trained journalists with no political agenda are not concerned about these omissions and contradictions as they keep the professional news media filter nice and tidy then it cannot be that relevant.

Jan. 12 2013 10:01 AM

Did the female guest realize how ridiculous the "counterargument" was to the purpose of citizens having military weapons to prevent tyranny by the government? The "counterargument" was that these weapons are for killing. Well, duh, that's EXACTLY what they are for. That's what any weapon is for. Does she think that the Founders would have said: "You can have an AR-47 in case the Federal government gets out of hand—but if someone tries to rob you, you can only use a handgun."?

The Second Amendment has nothing to do with personal protection. Owning a gun back in colonial times was like owning a knife and fork. The idea of needing a law to protect one's right to own a gun would be as ridiculous back then as the idea of needing a law to protect one's right to own a knife and fork would seem ridiculous to us today. In fact, a number of colonies had laws requiring one to own a gun.

The Second Amendment is about the right of the people to form a militia to fight Federal government tyranny with (obviously) any guns they already have for personal protection. That being said, the FIRST sort of weapon to fight Federal government tyranny today would be an assault weapon, i.e., NOT a .38 caliber pistol. So EVERYONE—including the NRA—is wrong when they claim that the Federal government can ban (or even regulate) assault weapons. It would be like Hitler claiming he had the right to ban or regulate the U.S. military during WWII, i.e., telling the U.S. military which weapons it could and could not use against the Wehrmacht.

The fact that the Federal government does regulate firearms is just one more glaring proof that the U.S. Constitution is meaningless. It also proves that government itself—because it is a forced monopoly of force—will always become more and more abusive and tyrannical as time goes on.

A friend of mine sent me this email message:

"Someone at the office asked me, yesterday, what type of “arms” I thought the Second Amendment protects. The answer to that is those arms of the same caliber and quantity as the armed federal officers who come to your door have."

Jan. 12 2013 07:23 AM

It just occurred to me how dangerous computers are. They are used in organized crime. Gangs sometimes use them. And we know that terrorists have used them.

It seems to me to be reasonable to require that all computers be registered with the government, in a database that could be centrally and easily searched by security services.

I'd like to start the national computer registration process with the New York Times and with WNYC.

Jan. 12 2013 12:22 AM

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