If you’re like me, going to a gun show is a great way to spend a Saturday. You get to pick up ammo, awe over antique firearms and meet like-minded individuals.
There may be a new downside though: the federal government is now encouraging local police departments to scan license plates to learn more about who attends these gun shows.
Back in 2010, California law enforcement agencies in the San Diego suburb of Del Mar began doing this to try and track gun smugglers crossing the border from Mexico. According to these agencies, this tactic makes it easier to track illegal activities that are otherwise difficult to pinpoint.
The bigger problem: This tactic is an invasion of privacy for legal, law-abiding gun owners. There’s a real concern that government agencies are tracking and storing information on individuals to learn buying patterns and behaviors.
“Information on law-abiding gun owners ends up getting recorded, stored, and registered, which is a violation of the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act and of the Second Amendment,” said Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America.
Although these tactics are considered to be useful for the protection of the general public, it is also considered an invasion of privacy. Unfortunately, the courts have not made constitutional determinations on government agencies utilizing tools, like license plate scanners, in mass scenarios.
Under current law, police officers are allowed to write down license plate numbers during every day observance. License plate scanners, however, record information on around 1,000 cars per hour.
These scanners record data on innocent individuals, which could be misused in the long run. How do we know the government isn’t using this data to push for gun control legislation? How do we know that the government isn’t targeting legal, law-abiding citizens, all because they own a firearm?
Jay Stanley, a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the gun-show surveillance “highlights the problem with mass collection of data.”
When information from the 2010 Del Mar Gun Show was released via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Bob Templeton, the CEO of Crossroads of the West, who put on the gun show, was surprised to learn his customers had their information captured via these license plate readers. Between 6,000 and 9,000 people attended that show alone, meaning thousands of cars were scanned.
“It’s obviously intrusive and an activity that hasn’t proven to have any legitimate law-enforcement purpose,” said Mr. Templeton. “I think my customers would be resentful of having been the target of that kind of surveillance.”
The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency went to other gun shows in nearby Ontario and Costa Mesa because the Del Mar raid “worked out pretty well,” one agent said via email.
But how do we know that government agencies, like ICE, are actually using this information for the common good? For all we know, this could be a ploy by the Obama Administration to set the groundwork for a Hillary Clinton presidency that would continue the gun control push.
Guess you know what that means – time to stock up on ammo and get those AR-15s!