Joe Biden's Big Mistake: Building a Gun Ownership Database?
The Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) actually had some prohibitions against the establishment of a national gun registry by federal law enforcement, but there could be a work around.
Supporters of gun control have long called for a national database of gun owners. However, as it currently stands there is no national registry of firearms—and despite what movies and TV shows may suggest, law enforcement can’t simply type a name into a gun database and see if that individual owns a firearm.
In fact, the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA) actually had some prohibitions against the establishment of a national gun registry by federal law enforcement. That said; there are still “federal databases” of guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) currently maintains records of stolen guns, as well as those that are used or are suspected of being used in a crime.
The National Tracking Center (NTC) is currently the only crime tracing facility in the United States. Its mission is to conduct firearms tracing to provide investigative leads for federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies.
The Issue of Privacy
This isn’t just a Second Amendment issue, as noted by Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which was established in 1994 as a public interest research center focused on privacy and civil liberties. It considered both sides of the debate for a national gun database:
“Some gun-control lobbyists argue that if records of gun owners were made available, then this increased regulation of weapons would decrease potentially violent crimes. Taking the opposite view, other advocates believe it is their legal right to own and use a firearm, and that anonymity is critically linked [sic] this ownership. They assert that the disclosure of gun ownership records could provide a potential road map for criminals in search of firearms, as well as potential for neighborhood gossip.”
There may be no national database, but several states do have specific laws on the books, according to PewPewTactical.com. New York requires that all handguns must be registered, while Hawaii and Washington, D.C. require that all firearms be registered. New residents to California and Maryland must report the firearms they own, and “pre-ban” assault rifles must be registered in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.
Is Biden Building a Database?
What could worry some is that this may no longer be just a debate, as the Washington Free Beacon reported last week, the Biden administration has “in just the past year alone stockpiled the records of more than 54 million U.S. gun owners and is poised to drastically alter gun regulations to ensure that information on Americans who own firearms ultimately ends up in the federal government’s hands, according to internal Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) documents.”
The documents had been obtained by the Gun Owners of America (GOA), a firearms advocacy group, and provided to the Free Beacon. The documents reportedly stated that the included records from gun shops that had gone out of business and were subsequently stored at the ATF’s offices in West Virginia. The Biden administration has sought to have all records stored in perpetuity—a change from current law that allows gun shops to destroy records after twenty years.
According to the reports, ATF obtained 53.8 million paper records and another 887,000 electronic records, according to the internal document that outlines ATF actions in fiscal year 2021.
“As if the addition of over 50 million records to an ATF gun registry wasn’t unconstitutional or illegal enough, the Biden administration’s misuse of ‘out-of-business’ records doesn’t end there,” Aidan Johnston, the Gun Owners of America’s director of federal affairs, told the Free Beacon. “Instead of maintaining the right of [licensed firearm dealers] to destroy Firearm Transaction Records after 20 years, buried within Biden’s proposed regulations is a provision that would mean every single Firearm Transaction Record going forward would eventually be sent to ATF’s registry in West Virginia.”
While the stockpiling of old transactions has irked some supporters of the Second Amendment, it should be noted too that these are often old paper records. It would take a literal army to actually enter the information into a computer, and much of it could be outdated.
Moreover, the West Virginia facility has stored so many paper records that the floor collapsed from the weight, the New York Times had previously reported. Rooms full of paper records, filled out by hand, seem to be more of a fire hazard than anything.
Yet, it also should be seen however as a misguided attempt to maintain the very database that the FOPA prohibited. Congress and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) should closely monitor how this proceeds as it could be an attempt for President Joe Biden to move forward with his gun control agenda.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.