The American Civil Liberties Union has always been kinda blah on the 2nd Amendment, to the point that in the 1970s, it was just left out of a Bill of Rights display in ACLU headquarters.
So it was good to see the organization taking up for gun owners after a Freedom of Information request exposed a proposal inside the Drug Enforcement Agency to spy on gun shows
The Department of Justice was quick to characterize the spying idea as the idle notion of a low-level employee that was quickly nixed by higher-ups. Given the scandal involving enhanced IRS surveillance of conservative political organizations, it's hard to have full confidence in that one.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that the ACLU has raised concerns about widening use of license-plate recognition systems and other advanced surveillance techniques by DEA and other agencies, especially since many of them have made asset forfeiture, even in the absence of a conviction, a major goal.
An internal DEA document said, "DEA has designed this program to assist with locating, identifying, and seizing bulk currency, guns, and other illicit contraband moving along the southwest border and throughout the United States. With that said, we want to insure we can collect and manage all the data and IT responsibilities that will come with the work to insure the program meets its goals, of which asset forfeiture is primary."
It's only natural to connect the dots between generalized surveillance at gun shows and asset forfeiture. As has been demonstrated time and again, the feds are perfectly content to snatch your guns and then challenge you to get them back. The best hole for that sort of fishing expedition is a gun show.
As the Journal reported: "The 2009 email is heavily redacted so as not to disclose the sender, recipient or much of the text beyond a single sentence: 'DEA Phoenix Division office is working closely with [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] on attacking the guns going to [redacted] and the guns shows, to include programs/operation with [license-plate readers] at the gun shows.'"
Those who have followed the Fast & Furious scandal will immediately take note of the Phoenix connection, since that's where the "gun walking" debacle was concocted. If you believe, as most politically aware gun owners do, that Fast & Furious was an attempt to build a rationale for restrictive gun control, gun show surveillance is just, from federal law enforcementÃs viewpoint, a logical extension.
The ACLU's Jay Stanley said he was glad to hear DEA officials nixed the program, but noted "there is unfortunately a long history of Americans being subject to surveillance because of their political or associational activities, and we see that to this day. When you combine that history with a powerful surveillance technology like license plate scanners, it raises significant concerns."
No kidding. Gun shows are a central, maybe the central "associational activity" of gun owners. That's why the antis always attack them. The number of crime guns acquired at gun shows is small. Antis want to kill gun shows because thatÃs where gun owners gather, bond, exchange information and gather strength for the fight. Shows are prime recruiting territory for NRA and for state and local gun groups. Eliminate them and building membership and activists becomes much harder.
And how many of you would feel enthusiastic about attending a gun show if you knew federal agents eyeballing your license plate were making a list? There are probably quite a few out there who won't go now unless they can ride a bus: knowing that attending a gun show might put you in a government database would deter many more.
Just knowing a surveillance plan was discussed will scare off a lot of people, which nicely serves the purpose of those who were considering it.
So one hearty cheer for the ACLU; better late than never! If they can't work up the stomach to defend our right to bear arms, at least they can support our right peaceably to assemble, and that counts as progress.