Two months ago, the National Rifle Association (NRA) joined an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit over the National Security Agency’s (NSA) phone metadata collection program, most recently published by Glenn Greenwald based on leaked documents from Edward Snowden.
The NRA, which is the most powerful organization in the massively influential gun lobby, believes the collection of anonymous phone metadata — the date, time and phone number called — is a violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of assembly, and so it claimed exactly that in a document submitted to the U.S. Court of Appeals’ Second Circuit, after U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley upheld NSA’s metadata program.
“The mass surveillance program could allow identification of NRA members, supporters, potential members, and other persons with whom the NRA communicates, potentially chilling their willingness to communicate with the NRA,” the brief states.
The NRA also cited a Stanford University study in which a pair of students were able to ascertain personally identifiable information from metadata: “We were able to infer medical conditions, firearm ownership, and more, using solely phone metadata.”
Of course the study failed to address the fact that metadata belonging to U.S. Persons (citizens and anyone visiting the U.S.) is encrypted and therefore anonymized in accordance with strict Department of Justice minimization procedures. The only legal way to decrypt the metadata is to acquire an individual court order from a FISA judge justifying why the target is relevant to an investigation, and only after digging through several other layers of reports and bureaucracy. All of this was revealed not by NSA, but via Snowden documents.
Nevertheless, the NRA clearly doesn’t like the idea of the government keeping a database with completely anonymous details of phone calls, only accessible via a warrant. After all, it might reveal “medical conditions” and the like.
Then why do you suppose the NRA, along with its thoroughly purchased supporters from both parties (but mainly the GOP), support the idea of creating a national, FBI-managed database of all Americans who at one time or another were diagnosed with a mental illness? This list wouldn’t be anonymous nor would it be be supervised by a court with warrants issued before revealing names and other extraordinarily private details to any random gun store owner.
Just after the Sandy Hook massacre, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre demanded action on such a list, “How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?” He continued, “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics.”
So we’re to understand that LaPierre’s position is that having a database of gun purchases, much like state vehicle registrations or federal income tax records, is unconstitutional. Likewise, having a database of totally anonymous metadata at Fort Meade is both lawsuit-worthy and unconstitutional. Yet having a comprehensive national database of everyone with a mental illness (LaPierre doesn’t specify the severity or lack thereof) is not only necessary but perfectly constitutional.
Let’s add a twist to this ridiculousness. What if Congress were to pass a law mandating that every mental illness that’s diagnosed in accordance with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV) should be submitted to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)? And what if everyone were to comply with the law and a massive national database, filled to the brim with everyone from schizophrenics to comparatively ordinary depression cases, was rolled out? What then?
Would the NRA support expanded background checks to prevent mentally ill citizens listed on the NICS from buying firearms at gun shows or on the internet? Clearly not, because it spent untold millions of dollars in defiance of 74 percent of its own members campaigning against the Manchin-Toomey amendment, which would’ve closed those background-check loopholes nationally.
The NRA also supported a bill sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would’ve allowed anyone who was committed to a mental institution to immediately purchase a firearm upon being released. Because, they say, we should focus on mental illness to reduce gun violence?
Obviously the NRA’s position on mental illness, which LaPierre will certainly go on and on about any day now following Santa Barbara, is a bullshit smokescreen. If it wasn’t, the NRA’s position would at least appear consistent. But given how the NRA is totally in favor of violating constitutional privacy rights on mental illness in service of preserving its interpretation of constitutional gun rights, while also being confusingly opposed to other alleged violations of privacy rights regarding NSA’s metadata program, we can only conclude that it will do and say anything to achieve its singular goal: making sure the gun manufacturing industry remains hugely profitable regardless of how many Americans, mentally ill or otherwise, use its retail products to murder innocent people.