Incredibly, while 91 percent of Americans support universal background checks, a bipartisan effort to merely expand background checks failed earlier this year. Part of the reason was the NRA's ability to sow fears that the government was trying to create a national registry of firearm owners – though, as BuzzFeed reveals, that database already existed. Over the years, the NRA has secretly amassed information on tens of millions of Americans – including non-members. It uses the information not just to boost membership, but to promote political causes, employing many of the same sophisticated data tools that helped President Obama's campaign win the last two elections.
As Gawker reported in February, the NRA routinely collects gun permit data from state and county offices. According to BuzzFeed, the database also includes the names of people who take gun-safety classes taught by NRA-certified instructors, gun show attendees, gun magazine subscribers, and others. The names are collected without people's knowledge or consent, and the NRA refused to discuss the database. When asked what the organization does with the gun safety class rosters turned in by its 97,000 certified instructors, NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said, "That’s not any of your business."
Like many companies, the NRA uses the information for marketing purposes. But even if people in the database don't become dues-paying members, the NRA can target them for political purposes. For example, Washington state Rep. Maureen Walsh withdrew her support for a background check bill in March after receiving more than 1,200 letters and calls from constituents, many of whom said they weren't NRA members but were contacted by the group.
If the NRA was willing to discuss its secret list, it might defend itself by arguing it would never use the information to violate gun owners' rights; the group only opposed Washington's effort to create a national gun registry because it's a precursor to gun confiscation. Of course, the Manchin-Toomey bill would have strengthened prohibitions against a national registry, and no lawmakers were advocating the seizure of Americans' guns. But the NRA effectively spread that misinformation, with help from its own shady gun database.