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A TTAG reader writes:

Question: When is gun purchase information an actionable database?

Long ago (yesterday in government think), data bases were new, and pretty much looked like big spreadsheets; one row with numerous cells containing whatever elements described the data elements related to the “key” (the prime element related to every other data field). Technology advanced to “relational databases”, which were/are more efficiently arranged and accessed.

In both cases, the “database” was pretty much stand-alone, and if what you needed for searching, combining and calculating was not in “your” database, it was difficult to achieve your purposes. More time passed, and “data warehouses” arose, allowing linking of different databases so that more sophisticated information retrievals could be developed and used.

Sometimes the separate databases weren’t located on a single plot of land, but the effect was negligible regarding data retrieval and processing. Then there came “the cloud”, which is not germane to what follows, but was the last “big thing” before the current big thing . . . “big data”.

The central takeaway from the above is that a database need not be thought of, nor actually be, a bunch of bits and bytes located in a monolithic data repository. Which leads to the next consideration about databases – gun owner databases.

Many People of the Gun are aware that the Firearms Owners Protection Act prohibits government agencies from compiling “a database” of gun owners and gun purchases. That is, at the national level. States and cities can pretty much do as they please. But regardless, a robust (though incomplete) data warehouse of gun owners and gun purchases already exists at the federal level, and grows very day. How is this possible, and how did we not know it?

One of the problems is terminology. As noted way above, “databases” are likely generally though of as monolithic, all encompassing, at a single location. Ask someone not involved in technology to describe what they think of when the term “database” (especially gun owner database) is used, and you will see what I mean.

The current gun owner database consists of widely distributed data collected in hundreds, if not thousands of separate data repositories. Those repositories are the “bound books” of FFLs. While not electronically interconnected across the country, these bound books represent collections of forms containing data about the majority of legal gun purchases in the United States.

Think of all the FFLs as a monstrous data warehouse. Any government agency can query the data. Yes, the access and retrieval of that data is slow, inefficient, and cumbersome. However, a government agency has nothing if not time and money. A “friendly” phone call to an FFL can produce a wealth of information. And if “friendly” doesn’t work, subpoenas can easily be had. Why should the government waste time and money developing an EMP/blast-proof undisclosed location for collecting and analyzing all those mounds of data? Just query the data warehouse that’s already available.

The upshot is that it’s futile to rail against the federal government creating a gun owner/purchaser database; it’s already here now. One caveat: when government agencies are in the news agitating for a single gun owner database, it’s a red herring; they don’t need it. Watch for what they’re really doing somewhere else, for which all the public theater is a diversion.

The federal database that gun owners have long feared is here. Let’s move on to things we can do to make it go away, not waste time demanding prevention of what’s already a fait accompli. Establishing a gun owner database is a done deal. Better for gun owners and gun rights orgs to support efforts to stop any further recording of weapons transactions, and move for the destruction of the data that’s already been collected.

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64 Responses to You Know the Much-Feared Firearms Data Base? It Already Exists

  1. I’m not sure FFL logs count as a database of guns bought or sold. That is a snapshot in time. Now, if a law was passed that made all gun transfers have to occur at a FFL – and then the FFL was ordered to make its logs searchable by BATF on demand, that would be a different story.

    One party wants that to happen. The other doesn’t. Think. Vote.

    • The FLLs I deal with keep the logs in the most analog and inconvenient method legally possible.

      If any agency wants to start a digital database, they will be in for a whopping surprise. Picking away at the poor handwriting, shoveling through piles of paper in boxes poorly organized. And finally the info is crazy outdated with guns bough and sold so often that it would bankrupt this country if they tried to put all the discrepant pieces together.

      Tracing down one gun is possible, but millions upon millions is out of the question. We would grow old and die before the job could be completed.

      • This is why federal agencies and a certain political party agitate for a comprehensive national digital database. They want to be able to troll it on a whim and correlate data at will.

        Plus, building and administering such a mammoth enterprise would provide fat contracts for corporate cronies and cushy jobs for yet more bureaucrats. If Republicans didn’t have to worry about getting de-elected for it, they’d be pushing an “efficient government database” of guns/gun-owners too.

      • I actually have had some personal experience with how all of this works (and how it doesn’t). A couple of friends were shooting at a junkyard that *used* to be legal to shoot at when they were kids but was now owned by someone else. Anyway, cops show up tell them they have to leave and decided to check serials on the guns. They decided my friends gun (a K98 I had bought years before at a gun show) was previously “stolen”. I talked to a police officer friend of mine afterwards and he said it was far and away most likely a “false positive” the cop used to keep the rifle. Apparently there exists tons of duplicate serial numbers, even among similar model guns (especially among surplus guns like the K98).

    • Indeed.

      If I understand it right, what we have now is a system where the ATF can access an offline hard copy, if they really want to (like, to trace a gun used in a crime), but not one they can just casually troll. As I understand it, the NICS check simply discloses whether you’re buying a long gun or hand gun. Thus, it could be (and almost certainly is being) used to create a list of people who own or have owned at least one gun. (Anyone who has (or had) only guns for which no NICS was performed won’t appear.)

      That’s bad enough to be aggravating, but it’s not full-bore, convenient-to-the-tyrant-wannabe registration of individual guns, just most gun owners.

      • There’s also a NICS category for “other,” for things like a stripped lower receiver that could be built into either a rifle or a handgun and for silencers and some other NFA things that the Feds don’t recognize as either handgun or long gun, etc.

        The common response to the NICS system creating a database of people who have purchased guns is that a NICS check doesn’t necessarily mean a gun is purchased. It means a background check was run for the purposes of buying a gun, but in no way does it commit the prospective purchaser to going through with that. For instance, I could walk into a store and say I want to buy a handgun and ask them to run the background check to be sure that I pass, then once I do start browsing for guns and decide not to buy one. Obviously, with the way it typically works at a gun store, this isn’t very likely and it’s safe to assume that the vast, vast majority of NICS checks did actually result in a gun purchase, but it’s also plausibly deniable should it ever come to being questioned by the .gov. Yes, a NICS happened, NO, that doesn’t mean a gun was purchased. Additionally, most states don’t require notification in the event that a gun is stolen, lost, or destroyed, or many or most allow private party sales without an FFL and without a background check being involved. Meaning, not only does the NICS check not prove that a gun was purchased, but any passage of time increases the likelihood that the gun would no longer be owned by the NICS-checked person anyway. Two levels of what I feel is decent cause for “prove it” types of responses.

        • Sure, the background check may not by itself mean you bought a gun, but now the feds have a record of every credit card transaction, thanks to Elizabeth Warren and the Consumer Protection Bureau. Do we really believe they’re not, at some level, merging that data? They know you own guns based on the $$$ you put on your cards at gun shops. They just don’t know WHICH guns.

        • Nah, I bet a lot of people are like me. The guns I’ve purchased have all been purchased with cash. Same for the ammo. The Fed Gov surely knows I’m a gun owner but they shouldn’t have a HUGE entry for me.

      • Bull. It does not matter if it is convenient for “trolling,” all that matters is that a federal agency can systematically access data needed to reliably identify a gun’s owner. For the vast majority of recent firearms purchases that have not be resold, one of the dozen or so ATF databases likely has the information needed to quickly identify the owner. The bottleneck is not the data, nor the database, as the Bureau could likely disseminate a list of the vast majority of recent gun buyers & their whereabouts faster than any of us imagine; the real barrier is the logistics of any sort of mass-enforcement like we all fantasize about.

        Fact is; the ATF has a simple, efficient, formalized system for rapidly determining who the owner of a firearm is using manufacturer, distributor, and sales records. They are also pretty much able to run as many traces as they feel is necessary for their enforcement efforts. I fail to see how this is any different from a formal database in practice, since it’s not like the mere existence of a giant spreadsheet would equate to mass-incarcerations beyond what we see today. They don’t NEED a database to keep us all cowering in fear of their goons, and they can create one almost instantly if they haven’t already. The only difference is they aren’t mass-copying the convenient electronic manufacturer/distributor/sales records of the big players into their own servers, but they don’t need to since they can request searches on them anyway.

    • Colorado already has that law. All private transfers are supposed to go through an FFL.

      Numbers of transfers between private individuals are low. Se either there aren’t that many, or, more likely, people are routinely ignoring the law, as it the case with the 15 round magazine limit law that took effect at the same time.

      • The 15 round magazine limit law is a great example of Libtard logic. Rush gun control through the Democratic controlled House and Senate, despite just about every Sheriff in the state testifying that the law would do nothing to reduce crime, is completely unenforceable, and unconstitutional. Gov. Lickenpooper ignores the Sheriffs and signs it anyway, and now we have a law on the books that makes the Dems feel like they’ve made a difference in the world, while criminals continue to buy high capacity magazines in neighboring states.

    • While the author of this article is accurate with pretty much everything mentioned, it overlooks a key issue for most gun owners. The only “key field” in the distributed bound book database is the firearm’s serial number. As such, while it is reasonably easy for .GOV to trace a specific gun to a an individual, there is no easy way to key on an individual and produce a listing of all firearms in his/her name.

      On top of that, the paper database is only good for tracing a firearm to the first recorded sale. If, say, I buy a new gun from an FFL, it can be traced to me. The problem is that the chain can be broken if I sell or lose the gun. Even if the gun were legally transferred to another party using and FFL, unless we live in a state where all transfers are recorded at the state level, my cooperation would be needed for LE to continue the trace after me.

      The upshot of all of this is that a National Gun Registry remains a clear and present danger. If such a thing were to be allowed to come into being, it would be trivial for LE to query any individual name and be presented with a list of all of the firearms owned by that person. This is what really scares gun owners.

    • Wrong! When I had some family issues with my elderly father and the police came to the house, they knew every single gun I owned and every single gun my father owned. And, this was back in 1997 – 98! If you think the government at the State and federal level does not have access to who owns what, you are delusional.

      • So while I don’t disagree with you I will have to point out your name is “Bill in IL” and last time I checked Illinois had in place a firearm owners registration scheme where you had to apply for a permit to buy a firearm, even a used one. If that’s truely the case then it’s totally different then buying one in a free state like Texas or Kentucky where you walk in in a whim and walk out 15 minutes later with a brand new gun and filling out a single 4473. Or paying cash for a gun at a local gun show and no record of the transaction ever occurring at all.

  2. Oh the dreaded bound book! I am shivering in my boots….not!

    Yeah that is how the feds do a back trace to find the first purchaser of a firearm, but it is far too cumbersome to be of any use to confiscate guns. Simple fact is guns change hands a lot. How many guns do you own that you bought more than ten years ago? Twenty? Guns are bought and sold and traded and given and willed every day in this country. The information is way too scattered and stirred up for bound books to be of any danger to the citizens.

    Not to say that Hillary and her nasty cohorts wouldn’t try to create a national gun registry. Will you give her the chance? Get out and vote!

    • California is already facing the problem of out of date data bases in its (largely unsuccessful for various reasons) efforts to seize firearms from persons who have become disqualified by conviction or involuntary commitment to a mental facility. Once you are in the system as having purchased a firearm, you stay in the system, even if you file a notice of non-ownership. Further, there is no obligation on a transferor to inform the DOJ of a change in ownership, whether by sale, gift or devise, so there are a lot of firearms that may have more than a single owner of record. The DOJ simply files the information, but does not weed out the “double” entries or record information of sales that is received from FFLs. Consequently, the DOJ firearms owner’s database is not a sufficient basis for the issuance of a warrant for the seizure of arms, and investigators have to go house to house asking people if they still own guns. In addition to an incredibly high rate of turnover, the DOJ has spent all of the $5 million allocated to it from “excess” DROS fees paid by purchasers, but has appealed to and been given another $25 million to a job that likely cannot be done.
      I assume that the same is true of nearly all state databases. I also assume (based on a detention and search of a Florida CCW holder for his gun in Maryland during a traffic stop) that the information on CCW holders and/or gun owners is shared through common portals, so if the fed or any state wants info, it can get it.

    • If you honestly think that the federal government (or the NSA, or the CIA) doesn’t already have access to a comprehensive gun-owner database, you have failed to read your history books. That law only prevents the federal government from compiling this database. It says nothing about Northrop Grumman, or Academy, or MI6 compiling such a database. The feds have already outsourced this task for a fee. Why do you think that their new training exercises focus on finding and taking out nodes of power/influence within some form of rebellion?

  3. “Monstrous data whorehouse” er …warehouse. I swear that’s what I read. Be vigalent. Sh!ts about to get real folks. Tell me again why some of the POTG think the gubmint has no file compiled on them…

  4. This is one view – but expand that. Do you think they stop there. What about your Amazon purchases, your search history, the websites you post information to. They know who the gun owners are.

    What they can’t pin down right now are how many guns. Since you can sell without a FFL involved for personal sales they don’t know how many are still in the collection. This is why they want all sales to go thru a FFL.

    Just remember:
    When they come to your house you can say – I lost that gun in a boating accident.

    • ^ This!

      You can bet your sweet @$$ that fedzilla is in bed with Google, Bing, Yahoo, and any other search engine and has access to search queries. You can also bet your sweet @$$ that fedzilla is in bed with other Internet entities that enable fedzilla to log you other Internet activity related to firearms purchases.

      Unless you purchase everything in private transactions with cash, there is a really good chance that fedzilla knows what you were doing.

    • ” – I lost that gun in a boating accident.”

      That works just fine until you get a law that requires you report that loss.

      Then God help you if you if that gun is found with you (or anyone else who found it and didn’t report it) in the future.

      What is needed is a database geek Patriot who can mangle that electronic record beyond recovery…

      • I know, right? The rubes that think the feds need to confiscate every last individual gun in order to disarm the populace never cease to amaze me. The guns don’t and have never mattered; it’s the gun owners whose identities must be protected. All you gotta do is cross-reference ‘militant’ social media from ‘undesirable’ sources like this one against the Homeland dossier built off Google/Facebook data to get an ID (these companies can probably be solicited to supply the names themselves), then send it over to the ATF to determine if they have a record of a sale that hasn’t been accounted for during the “buy back.” At that point you have an actionable list of probable registration/confiscation violators, derived solely from the political groups devoted to opposing these measures. Easy to discredit them as criminals & have them silenced at that point, or merely harassed by the IRS & Child Services into submission. Scary stuff, but it’s where we are, anymore.

      • How funny, I had a dream last night where I found a gun and had a police officer friend find out if it was stolen, lost, etc because I wanted to keep it.

  5. I would point out that when FFL’s retire or die their bound books are turned over to the ATF. The ATF keeps them in a set of airplane hangers. There was a story a few years ago about how the ATF wanted money to digitize all of that information.

    Also the ATF can, at will, go through an FFL’s bound book. I don’t see anything that prevents them from taking an image of what’s written down. Given the fed’s proclivity for lying, breaking their own laws and getting away with both I don’t think it’s unreasonable to worry about them creating such a database over time. I don’t think it’s something to stay awake at night thinking about or write home about but it’s a real possibility and freedom that isn’t jealously guarded is generally lost.

    • You speak the truth. The ATF has the ability and the right to show up at my business and request all of my 4473s, which by the way I am required to keep until I’m out of business. What they do with that info is the subject of what they think they can get away with. I agree with previous posters, that for the ATF to collect ALL 4473s from ALL FFLs would be extremely time consuming, and compiling into digital form worse yet. On a somewhat related subject, I read about a proposed BIDS system ( http://www.gunlaws.com/BIDSvNICS.htm ) and wonder what you all think about it. Makes sense to me, but…doable??

      • When you really think about it, what is BIDS? It’s basically the same as NICS but the difference is who has control over what information might be retained during the check.

        If you’re not on a list the NICS uses you’ll get the gun. Same with something that requires a Form 4. All they do is query a series of databases with your information. If you don’t come up as a “hit” you’re clear. If you do come up as a hit they need to figure out if you’re actually the person on the list or someone with the same name.

        I see no reason that couldn’t be done by simply creating a list of prohibited persons with their SN and other info and handing it out to dealers in the form of a computer system that updates every day. Of course there would have to be another backup system in case “John Smith” was denied due to the actions of another “John Smith” but it would greatly, greatly reduce the fears about a “database of owners” while at the same time basically preventing criminals/crazies/terrorists from simply walking into a store and buying a gun. It works the same way really and at the end of the day the dealer just burns the forms that were filled out. Could they keep the forms? Sure. How would the buyer know? But if a dealer got caught doing that I suspect their business would dry up faster than a hammered girl’s vagina when her lover has whisky dick.

        So yeah, I’d say it’s “doable” in realistic terms. It would have it’s warts, just like the NICS system does *cough* Virginia Tech *cough cough*. In political terms? I dunno.

  6. The FFL’s I have used all seem to use shotty contractors to build their shops. Every 2 or 3 years some poor workmanship causes a fire with total loose.

      • Every time a dealer sells a gun, the buyers name and address are entered into the FBI criminal check system. If you think they don’t keep that data I have a bridge to sell you, cheap.

        • They run a check if I want to buy a gun.
          Maybe I’ll buy it, maybe not.
          Or, maybe I’ll buy two or three. You can do that too.
          Meanwhile, the make, model and serial number are never sent to NICS.

          This is the reason for all the talk about the “bound book” above. That’s where the documents are, linking buyer to specific firearm. Until he sells it, or it gets lost in a tragic boating accident.

          The number of times my name has been submitted to NICS has no relationship to the number of guns I own.

        • Not in NC (and probably many other states) if you have a CHP. They just record your CHP number and move on.

    • ATF: Search. Warrant. All. Property. Oh, and no, your homeowners won’t cover it when we rip your house down to the studs looking for the guns we think you have.

      • They could do that to one or two families, but after that there would be bloodshed – another “shot heard round the world”.

        While quite possible, that approach does not scale up to a national or even regional gun confiscation.

        • They have done it to hundreds, if not thousands. Don’t recall any news stories about dead ATF agents.

  7. They know who we are. They know where we are. And they know our numbers and that the numbers are growing at record paces.

    What keeps them from coming for us is fear. If even a small percentage of gun owners put up a fight they’ll be outgunned.

    Not even barry is stupid enough to start that war.

  8. What about FFL required transfer logs (into and out of their inventory) correlated to NCIS approval call times?

    • Come to think of it further. . .

      If any harm should come to a gun owner because the “government” let the info slip, promise them that they’d wish ISIS got to them and theirs first.

  9. I am actually surprised if people believe that they aren’the on a list already. We know the is NSA going through every ones email and texts and listening to phone calls. The IRS can audit you, see if you gave money to a pro 2A group, look at your credit card statements and see where you spent your money. Police have have people who root through Facebook all day long. If you think you aren’t on someone’s list, then you have been living off the grid your entire life or you are mistaken.

    • Yup.

      As I joked with my dad yesterday “In Soviet Russia paper reports on you!” Same for everything else these days. The only question is if anyone cares to look.

      • Strych9, you hit on something there. In communist countries, the government rewards the comrades that report on their neighbors, friends, coworkers, classmates, parents, etc., for information the government considers useful. This will be the next-step after the banning and mandatory confiscation or “buy-back”. Neighbors will receive a reward for tattling on gun owners.

    • Hell, I buy most of my guns online, which means I get an electronic receipt. I’m sure the NSA has a list of 90% of the guns I own just from their illegal collection of my data.

  10. Having the records in thousands of paper books spread out across the country vs in a centralized searchable database is not a trivial distinction. Access time matters, for the same reason that a 256-bit vs 40-bit keyspace matters. Resources are finite. Sure, they can visit any FFL, trace who bought any gun. What they can’t do is trace EVERY gun, print out a list of who owns what, block by block.

  11. If the government wants to find you, they’ll find you.

    To paraphrase Morpheus from The Matrix:

    Do you think that’s free speech you’re typing now? Hmm.

  12. Standing in the grass of a major interstate out of my home state, I learned every firearm serial number is in a database somewhere and accessible by a LEO. My handgun was checked and noted I was the legal owner.

    Sure as the sun rises, fed’s will get the funding to register every armament.

  13. I don’t disagree with the author that the “lists” are already created. We can try and make an argument that these lists should be destroyed, but as soon as that argument begins to have even the slightest traction, we have another Newtown or Orlando.

    The time for argument has long passed; we have an overt threat to the freedom of Americans that’s manifested in one of the largest political parties in the United States. The answer is plain and simple: Mutually Assured Destruction. Come for our guns and it will be Armageddon.

  14. The govt leviathan knows all your health data, your financial income sources, your kids school grades, the MPG your car gets and GPS data of where it goes, and what guns you bought. The only thing they struggle to find are illegal aliens and Hillarys emails.

  15. If you have a concealed carry permit, you are on a list of gun owners maintained by your state of residence. I’m guessing the Feds can query those systems without much trouble. However, all that reveals is that you may have a gun, and you might carry it around with you on occasion.

    With regards to the FFL bound books, someone above said it correctly. The records therein are a snapshot in time. The ATF can find out that you bought a GLOCK 19 six years ago when you lived at 123 Main Street in Anytown Kentucky. However, they have to work a little harder to find out where you are now, and if you still have that GLOCK.

    You could have moved and then maybe sold the GLOCK in a private sale.

  16. Being an FFL, I know a “little” about this subject, but I would agree that our bound books are just a snapshot in time. Most states, unlike my former MA, do not required private transfers to be recorded by FFLs. They can take place without any paper trace existing and are perfectly legal and legit. Another note, many states also don’t require background checks for residents who have a some form of license to carry (permit). This would make NICS very incomplete as a source of data on gun purchases as there are likely millions of private transfers per year in this country off the books of FFLs.

  17. The greatest database is social media. I can promise you that facebook can predict if you own guns with 99.9% accuracy based on group/people you associate with, and user post history. They probably can even predict what type of guns you own.

  18. I’ve got a better idea: let’s reform the system around the NFRTR so it covers all guns, and does not outlaw any guns based on their auto-firing characteristics. Documented lawful ownership in exchange for legal access to all modern small arms. Quid pro quo.

  19. In California, there is a database kept by the state, encompassing handgun sales and starting in 2014, sales of long guns. It is called the Dealers Record of Sale, or DROS. Since we have UBGC’s, all “legal” firearms transactions go through this process. There is a ten day wait, if you’re lucky.

    Gavin Newsom’s Prop 63 proposes adding a BGC to ammo sales, with fees for each sale. He also states this wont affect online purchases, you just have to have the ammo shipped to an “Ammo Dealer” to run the BGC before you can take it home

    I can’t get an answer as to the length of time this BGC will take. If it is instant, why can’t the same system be used for firearms purchases and eliminate the 10 day wait?

    California has more than 800 firearms laws and is adding them as quickly as possible. My head hurts

  20. This article is pretty . . . I’m struggling for the right adjective.

    It makes no sense. To try to say that thousands of paper records at thousands of locations makes up a database the same way a centralized computerized relational database makes up a database is . . . um. . . idiotic.

    There is no way for the federal government to know what you own unless they audit every FFL within a certain radius of your home looking sprcifically for yoru purchases. And even then, there is no guarantee that the list is complete, since you could have lawfully purchased a long gun from a dealer on the other side of the country.

    The simple fact is that the current system is just about perfect. If the cops need to trace a specific firearm by serial number, they can. (by going through the manufacturer, then the distributor, then dealer, then buyer). If they want to track a gun owner to see what he owns, they can NOT. The fact that 4473s are not sent to anyone is a huge part of this. Dealer’s retain 4473s and NICS data does not include the specifics of the firearm. That is huge.

    Don

  21. I have a QUESTION for EVERYONE to THINK About and ASK ( their long lived gun store).

    HOW MANY GUN STORES ( that have been in business Longer than twenty years),
    go though and destroys 4473 information ( older than 20 years) that is no longer required to be retained (by gun store) for ATF requirements ?

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