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.