The NRA Is Not the Same as the NSA

by Jim Geraghty

Today’s Morning Jolt begins with a lengthy look at conservative efforts to influence the culture and the role of celebrities; more heartbreaking news out of Syria and a measure of the increasing chaos in the Middle East, a paranoid man insists he isn’t paranoid, and then this news . . . 

Perhaps the First Organization to Learn from Obama 2012 Is . . . the NRA?

Is this sinister? Or just smart politics?

. . . the sort of vast, secret database [of gun owners] the NRA often warns of already exists, despite having been assembled largely without the knowledge or consent of gun owners. It is housed in the Virginia offices of the NRA itself. The country’s largest privately held database of current, former, and prospective gun owners is one of the powerful lobby’s secret weapons, expanding its influence well beyond its estimated 3 million members and bolstering its political supremacy.

That database has been built through years of acquiring gun permit registration lists from state and county offices, gathering names of new owners from the thousands of gun-safety classes taught by NRA-certified instructors and by buying lists of attendees of gun shows, subscribers to gun magazines and more, BuzzFeed has learned.

The result: a Big Data powerhouse that deploys the same high-tech tactics all year round that the vaunted Obama campaign used to win two presidential elections.

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam declined to discuss the group’s name-gathering methods or what it does with its vast pool of data about millions of non-member gun owners. Asked what becomes of the class rosters for safety classes when instructors turn them in, he replied: “That’s not any of your business.”

Others in the business of big political data, however, say the NRA is using similar tools to those employed by the campaigns of its nemesis, President Barack Obama.

“There are certainly some parallels,” said Laura Quinn, CEO of Catalist, a data analysis firm used by Obama For America. “The NRA is not only able to understand people who their members are but also people who are not their members. The more data they have, the more it allows them test different strategies and different messages on different people.”

Of course, this list has a couple of important distinctions from what the NRA warns about, doesn’t it? After all, it’s a private organization collecting this information, not the government. It’s astronomically unlikely that the NRA would ever use this data as part of an effort of national gun confiscation. The purchasing of magazine subscriber lists — hey, that’s been around for a long time.

Our Charlie Cooke: “I’m still routinely surprised at the frequency with which the distinction between public and private, vital for all politics, is ignored.”

The BuzzFeed article seems to emphasize the theme of hypocrisy, or to suggest that gun owners should be or will be up in arms about the NRA using all this data to beat back gun-control efforts. Somehow I suspect that a lot of gun owners will respond, “Well, it’s about time!”

The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.