I've written briefly on the fact that the Bush Administration has dramatically and sometimes inexplicably expanded the level of secrecy in our country. I've claimed that this is bad for our democracy.
Now, in a twist, they've limited information available to the federal government about private citizens. But only private citizens who buy guns.
As this article in the National Review explains, records of lawful (as opposed to unlawful? how do they know?) gun purchasers must be destroyed within 24 hours.
Now, I support limiting unreasonable government access to private information. That's why I opposed the provisions of the so-called Patriot Act II, which Ross Mayfield covered quite well. (In case you missed it, President Bush recently signed into law an act giving law enforcement the right to force certain private companies to disclose private records on their customers, without a warrant or any other judicial review. I think this is the first time the "warrant" process has been legally circumvented.)
But this law doesn't apply to gun purchasers.
Reading the National Review article cited above, I was surprised to learn that there is a system of regulation designed to prevent the collection of information on gun owners in this country. I'm not sure what the theory is -- we collect information on car owners, for instance, and even home owners, even though not all car and home owners are criminals -- but for some reason gun owners feel that it would be unreasonable for the government to know who they are. The implication seems to be that the government should only track unlawful gun owners. But what is a gun purchaser supposed to do? Fill out a form which says "check here if you intend to commit unlawful acts with this gun"? But, I digress.
This Administration seems to feel that certain invasions of privacy without judicial review are warranted for reasons of national security. But that doesn't extend to people who buy guns. In the interests of national security, an American citizen who goes to Las Vegas for the weekend can be tracked to their room number without a judge's order. He can be detained in secret indefinitely without public review and without access to an attorney (yes, Mr. Ashcroft, you've said you've only done this to two American citizens -- but without proper Judicial Branch review, how can we believe you?) But you can own a gun in complete privacy, assuming you pass the fool-proof background check.
This doesn't seem terribly consistent. I suppose gun owners could be more likely to be law-abiding citizens and less of a threat to national security. That could be -- though the Oklahoma City Bombing by domestic terrorists might be a counter-example. Maybe the NRA has stats on crimes committed by gun owners versus those committed by non-gun owners. Who knows? It's probably not that relevant, anyway.
This is a complicated issue, and I know I haven't done it justice here. But I guess the good news is that when federal agents knock at your door to take you away, they'll have no idea that you're heavily armed. Since you don't know if you're about to be detained under Executive authority potentially and legally for the rest of your life, without access to an attorney or public notice, what is the incentive to cooperate?
I guess the "black helicopters" we kept hearing about from survivalists (who are generally gun owners; though not all gun owners are survivalists) in the 80s and 90s might exist after all. So it's a good thing for them that they've been so effective in protecting their own rights to privacy. Now for the rest of us: a little help, please?
(Thanks to Mike Tsao for the pointer to the National Review article.)