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We need an NRA for privacy
233 points by plg on Aug 9, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 167 comments
A software company shuts its secure email service pre-emptively so that they wouldn't be forced to comply with government orders to ... what? insert back doors? hand over encryption keys?

What country did this happen in? Soviet Russia? Cuba? Iran?

No the United States of America. Truly chilling.

I'm talking about Silent Circle. see:




If this had been about a gun-making/selling company shutting down its operation because they were afraid the government come to them and force them to violate the privacy of their customers, or for example insert, surreptitiously, some sort of tracking device into the guns themselves, the country (and the mainstream media, by the way) would be UP IN ARMS.

What we need is a "National Privacy Association" like the "National Rifle Association". Celebrity spokespeople, tons of money, lobbying congress, etc.

Privacy advocates need to get their act together and form a single-issue organization. I need to be seeing teenagers coming to my house peddling privacy the way they do for churches and baby seals. The tech industry needs to sack up and realize that their business interests are at stake, and put some serious money in PACs behind the whole effort. It needs to have a focused mission, no getting distracted in related issues (e.g. copyright reform or reform of hacking laws), but be a big tent (don't care what else your other viewpoints are). There needs to be a diversity of messages, targeted at different demographics. There has to be something in it not just for techie yuppies in San Francisco, but also church-going grandmothers in small-town Iowa (any political movement that can't capture at least some old people is dead on arrival). That's a key strength of the NRA: it has vigorous support across a wide diversity of voting demographics.

The EFF and the ACLU are fine for what they are, but they've got too broad of a mandate to have the kind of focused impact you want. You can't be an effective mainstream advocacy organization when you're off defending unsympathetic people for principled purposes. That's an important thing too, but it's a different thing.

For people interested in effecting real political change, I seriously recommend watching this documentary on the Prohibition: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition. One group of people got a nation that until (and during and after!) prohibition drank 140 million gallons of liquor a year to outlaw alcohol. The money wasn't on their side (the government made 1/3 of its revenues from liquor taxes and the beer makers had tremendous power), but they accomplished their goal by masterful politicking: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wayne_Wheeler.

"Under Wheeler's leadership, the League focused entirely on the goal of achieving Prohibition. It organized at the grass-roots level and worked extensively through churches. It supported or opposed candidates based entirely on their position regarding prohibition, completely disregarding political party affiliation or other issues. Unlike other temperance groups, the Anti-Saloon League worked with the two major parties rather than backing the smaller Prohibition Party."

> Privacy advocates need to get their act together and form a single-issue organization. I need to be seeing teenagers coming to my house peddling privacy the way they do for churches and baby seals. The tech industry needs to sack up and realize that their business interests are at stake, and put some serious money in PACs behind the whole effort.

But privacy advocates are frequently at odds with tech companies over privacy issues. See CISPA for example, which pretty much every major tech company supported, but privacy advocates hated.

The NRA's issue aligns gun manufacturers, gun retailers, and gun enthusiasts, which makes fundraising a lot easier. I don't think privacy is like that, though. No one makes or sells privacy.

The labor or environmental movements might be better models for a privacy movement--both started out as grassroots campaigns without any substantial corporate support. The environmental movement in particular has done a good job of turning their issue into a popular cause, forcing companies to go along, at least publicly.

Edit to add: What the environmental movement did so well was to create a personal sense of danger--YOUR kid might get sick from pollution. YOUR favorite animal might go extinct. Etc.

Privacy advocates have, IMO, done a terrible job of this so far. To many of them just take it for granted that awareness is enough--that everyone agrees with them that it is horrifying for personal information to get collected and aggregated. Most people don't care, though, because they don't have a reason to care.

What privacy advocates need are personal stories that demonstrate how impingements on privacy led to direct harm to innocent people--and they need to be the sort of thing that make John Q. Public think, "that could happen to me!" or "That could be my child!"

Until we have specific, actual, real privacy atrocities I can't see this effort getting the traction of any of the groups you've specified. Labor had company towns and less but still specifically abusive employers, with plenty of specific people maimed or killed in unsafe workplaces or labor actions. Environmentalists had deformed children from Japanese industrial mercury dumping, and, oh, the Cuyahoga River catching on fire. Gun grabbers have killed, maimed, or otherwise grossly abused thousands of people and that continues to this day.

What specific incidents, with victims most will empathize with, can the privacy effort point to?

Probably nothing, because the actual people at NSA have remained pretty focused on their mission even absent any real technical or legislative-oversight controls. I suspect that will be the case until the hired-in-2001 people leave the agency and are replaced mainly with people trained by those post-2001 people. In the most junior roles at NSA, that's probably already happened.

I wonder if "diffuse harm happening to everyone" can ever compete with "concrete harm happening to specific people you identify with". It's clear "concrete harm happening to people about whom you give zero fucks, or actively dislike" is meaningless.

In the first category, let's go with atmospheric nuclear testing -- a small but concrete global cancer risk increase. We ended that, but only after doing it a lot, and getting most of the benefit. I'm not sure if occasional-but-universal things like car accidents (measures like airbags, etc.) count as the first or second category. The second gets a whole range of things. The third, virtually everything about warfare. All serious privacy/comsec things to date have been in the third category (unless you don't hate drug users, in which case some might be in the second category). The harm of the first category has been exceptionally minor, even if you believe humans at NSA read every single packet.

None, because apparently the people who the specific incidents happen to are either never aware of it or are told they can't talk about it.

Visibility is a particular challenge for the privacy issue. On the one hand, it means that advocacy groups should make transparency one of their platform's planks; on the other hand, it exposes advocacy group to the criticism that they are conspiracy theorists asking the government to reveal violations that ostensibly don't exist.

The NRA doesn't have "specific, actual, real gun rights atrocities" and they do just fine. How about people who won't give up their privacy until it is pried from their cold dead fingers just getting an address to send a check to in order to feel like they have agents working on their behalf?

Do the NAR or the Chamber of Commerce need atrocities?

You are GROSSLY ignorant of the history of gun grabbing atrocities, and they critically proceed the NRA's rise in political power. Read up on '70s BATF abuses of the GCA of '68 and get back to us before continuing to spout counterfactuals.

This is exactly what got me started on this issue in the early '70s.

On what planet does the seizure of guns count as an atrocity? I support gun rights absolutely, but you're looking at what I said through single-issue glasses.

When it's not following the Constitution and in the BATF's case frequently the law, and the gun owner gets "seized" and imprisoned as well, it's definitely in that direction. And they have regularly and often explicitly decreased the number of legal, licensed gun sellers, that's a pretty big thing, along with a multitude of abusive prosecutions of them.

But as I said, you haven't done your homework, or checked this https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6185918 top level comment of mine where I detail some of the more notorious cases:

"Our side can point to kittens killed ("I swear I am not making this up"), pregnant mothers who miscarried, people crippled for life, mothers shot dead while holding a baby (Ruby Ridge, in which the BATF was enlisted to try to force her husband to spy), and many many outright killed (Waco started out as a BATF "ricebowl" operation, they wanted some nice video for their first budget in the Clinton Administration). Plus a constant drumbeat of gun owners ensnared by "flypaper" laws in gun grabbing localities; even NYC has realized it's damaging their tourist industry."

Please do your basic research before making more such howlers.

Those seem like more "weird American law enforcement" things than inherent to gun control. Europe has largely [1] phased out guns in the past 50 years in a much more orderly way. It might not be a good idea that they did so, but it did happen in a pretty sane, non-cowboy, non-BATF sort of way, that I don't think would count as an "atrocity" in the regular sense of the term.

[1] With some exceptions. Carrying guns is still fairly common in sparsely populated rural areas, especially those with bears (northern Norway/Finland/Sweden). And, non-carry possession in the home is common in Switzerland. Switzerland is an interesting case because they cover both extremes: their law combines mandatory universal gun ownership with a very restrictive carry regime that makes it virtually impossible to carry a loaded gun out of the home (and even restricts the transportation of unloaded guns).

Perhaps, I don't pay that close attention to the countries my ancestors left, although I do know there a lot more legal guns owned than you realize, check Wikipedia, plus Germans for some inexplicable reason are thought to have keep possession of ... 26 million? illegal guns. Start e.g. here and note France and Austria as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_of_guns_per_capita_by_co... ; dig around in Wikipedia or the sources for official legal vs. estimated illegal.

But irrelevant to my general point of:

Gun grabber atrocities were followed by gun owner political power.

A stark lack of privacy atrocities is correlating with no privacy political power.

WRT of your additions on Switzerland: it's much less universal now, post-Cold War. They only manufactured a bit over 600,000 SIG 550s/Stgw [19]90s for a current population of 8 million. Per Wikipedia the size of the official army is now "about 200,000 personnel, 120,000 receiving periodic military training and 80,000 reservists who have completed their total military training requirements." With a 15 year normal term of service, if they're still following the old pattern of allowing you to buy a converted to semi-auto version of your service rifle when you muster out, quite a few of those have been removed from service.

Seizure of the property of a law-abiding citizen by the government without any just cause is certainly an atrocity, even more - when this property is related to the right specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights, so important it is.

Indeed, the usual suspects would be up in arms if printing presses (e.g. "high capacity" "assault" fast laser printers) were being seized.

IMHO: Seizure of property is a far greater atrocity than looking through some peoples' emails.

Not atrocities, but the threat is definitely personal. The message is basically "the government will take YOUR guns if you don't stand with the NRA."

It is true. When I read the laws that are being proposed nationally and locally in the state I live in, I realized there's a real chance that my right to own a firearm is under a real threat. And to illustrate that, I have before my eyes a number of localities where this right is already destroyed. So my choice of giving the money to the NRA was obvious and easy to make.

The choice of giving money to, say, EFF, is also easy for me to make, but I couldn't point to a specific and targeted threat in this case, it is more of a feeling that things take a wrong direction, which is not as mobilizing.

True, but the NRA was powerful before Ruby Ridge or the Davidians.

Some of these aren't single issue, but still relevant IMO. Please reply with other groups. Maybe we can decide which is the most suitable. Some groups may need vetting, and I can't think of a better place than HN for critical commentary regarding the activities of any particular group. I personally give to the EFF, and EPIC.






PS I second rayiner's rec' of the PBS series. I was surprised to learn that the Federal gov't had funded itself almost entirely with alcohol tax proceeds prior to Prohibition.

The problem I see with the ACLU and EFF is exactly what you mention - you've got to get older people involved. Fairly or unfairly (generally unfairly, in my opinion), both of those organizations have pretty negative connotations with the church going grandmother you reference. The ACLU's sometimes mindless pursuit of "civil rights" (which I think they do a good job of generally, but it does grate when everything is compared to the plight of African Americans, something that is almost becoming the Goodwin's Law of civil rights). The EFF trying to save "hackers" and "pirates" - which is completely unfair, but it's what the small town older people without computers hear and fear. A new organization that could start from scratch would make a huge difference, and could focus on educating people that this is seriously the equivalent of the government reading snail mail.

Note that you rarely see the NRA coming to the defense of hardened inner-city thugs getting railroaded with felon-in-possession type charges. It's careful to craft an image, and that image is centered on one set of people who use guns and not the other sets of people who use guns.

The NRA is also very careful to support people who don't actually violate gun laws (whether because they are just normal people with guns for hunting/protection or people exploiting loopholes that - regardless of your feelings towards them - are codified by law), or who are at least making some attempt at a credible argument (trying to phrase this as politically neutral as possible. I'm not here to debate their policy, just observe their actions) for the legitimate need for it. The way the NRA gets support is from people who want to make it easier to legally own guns. If we are being honest, "hardened inner city thugs" are not people who care whether the gun they have is legal or not, just whether or not it's easy to get. The NRA's explicit mission is more specific than make guns easy to get. It's make them easier to get legally. Again, this supports the need for a hyperspecific single issue organization that focuses on privacy. The NRA gets a lot of traction by focusing on freedom and the Constitution. A privacy organization would be wise to take note of what plays with the NRA - worries about government databases of guns should be very easy to relate to actual government databases of communications.

worries about government databases of guns should be very easy to relate to actual government databases of communications.

Bingo. There is a strong ally for privacy advocates in the NRA. This hasn't blown up in the media yet, but you can be sure it will next time discussions of gun registration/background checks comes up.

It will seldom if ever blow up in the media---did you hear about the publishing of gun owner names and addresses in various parts of New York, let alone a big media backlash???---but it is something we gun owners know about.

For both causes we're going to have to depend a lot on other methods of publicity. E.g. I'll bet you haven't heard that the Democratic administration running Missouri illegally gave the Social Security Administration the entire list of the state's concealed carry licensees.

This is damoncali's point. There is a huge opportunity here for both sides. The NRA gets to shine a light on illegal surveillance (or whatever you want to call it) without having to simultaneously fight the battle over guns. They can fight that battle separately, while at the same, any major wins for privacy are generally wins for the NRA in general. It goes both ways too. The NRA is extremely influential (imagine the impact the NRA announcing it would score the vote on Amash Amendment?) and are possibly the most savvy group of lobbyists in the history of democratic politics.

The NRA will make sure that whatever they do, it will be in the context of guns. It's what they do and with good reason.

My point is more that some privacy advocates and some gun advocates share their distrust of governmental data snooping. The NRA has long fought data collection/abuse about gun owners and is well used to doing do. It would behoove the privacy movement to learn from and work with the NRA on the issue as it pertains to guns, because that knowledge will be useful in the more general case.

It may be his point (not going to parse that), but it's not going to happen. As I've described elsewhere in this thread the NRA is not going to stray from its single issue unless something directly impinges on it, like McCain-Feingold's prohibitions on its core political speech. It's a very critical part of why we're even discussing it's effectiveness; asking it to be less effective because you'd like having its muscle in your corner is not to the point.

My point is that there is a large constituent in the NRA that is very receptive to the idea that government databases of private citizen actions represent a slippery. I'd also argue that courts finding it lawful (or tolerably unlawful or whatever euphemism we'll be fed) would directly impinge on the NRA's mission as much as McCain-Feingold. A lot of card carrying NRA members still remember being grouped in with "domestic terrorists" for owning guns back in the early Napolitano tenure.

That sounds right for EFF, but I'd be interested if there are any numbers for the age distribution of ACLU members. I'd always gotten the impression that their core supporters are baby boomers, generally >50 y/o.

You may be correct, but their core support being baby boomers doesn't exclude the possibility that an audience they need to reach is also in that age group. The issue with privacy is that it should have the largest contingent of support of any single issue. Tea partiers, pure libertarians, anarchists, leftists, gun rights supporters, free speech supporters, paranoid conspiracy nuts, militias (I'm running through every group and stereotype I can come up with here, please don't be offended, just trying show how broad the coalition should be), Black Panther types, the immigration crowd, even some number of religious groups worried about persecution should all be able to unite behind this issue as a single one they care about. Really, it's only going to be the most autocratic types who don't at least sympathize (if not support) the movement. At least, I haven't encountered anyone who doesn't at least get my outrage, even if they might be a bit more open to NSA-type activities than me.

I upvoted you for the general sentiment and the not-common-enough use of "effecting" as a verb...but I think privacy is too big for any single organization. Keep in mind that the hardest hitters...such as Google, who was instrumental in pushing back against SOPA, are themselves pushing the commercial boundaries of what people are comfortable with in regards to privacy.

I think it's better to treat privacy as a multi-faceted issue worth the time of several organizations. The First Amendment has been defended by various numbers of journalistic and religious organizations as well as the ACLU...There is some overlap, but each organization fights best within their specific domains.

Hmm, tech industry won't care until it truly affects the business. The more direct the better. After listening to Jared Lanier, I feel convinced that if the companies holding private information had to pay to obtain it, they'd be much more involved in privacy protection as it is a form of asset protection and it would be that much more obvious.

Prohibition succeeded because they formed an alliance with the Women's Suffrage movement.

Prohibition failed because it allowed the bootleggers of the underground to fully monopolize their trade without having to abide by any legal restrictions. If a business no longer has the threat of ramifications for questionable acts, then the questionable acts increase exponentially.

That can be two-way though. Cracking down only builds a stronger underground, which is where I see the entire surveillance issue going. As with all other ails in society, the ones with the power to effect real change are precisely the ones who would suffer most by said change. So it won't happen. Petitions, demonstrations, appeals courts, etc, are all useless. And there could never be a massive, singular pro-privacy effort as there is no money to be made. The NRA and big pharma have huge lobby groups playing with billions of dollars because there's billions more to be made.

So what? It's harder to combat guerrillas than a standing army. There's not always safety in numbers, sometimes that just results in a bigger target. So what if the Feds can tap into the larger encrypted anythings, give them a thousand tiny encryption outlets to deal with instead. Not a united cause, but a million different efforts. OWS failed bigtime because there were too many cooks in the kitchen. Aligning forces means individual voices get lost in the shuffle of the crowd. And Prohibition aligning with the Suffrage movement only resulted in the Suffrage movement being falsely placated to as a new target for Capitalism. Sell them ladies some cigarettes! Sell them some clothes-washing machinery! Let them know how much we respect their struggles by giving them things to go broke on!

(Apologies for any lack in logic- still working on 1st pot of coffee.)

Prohibition didn't fail; it was wildly successful.

For Joe Kennedy maybe.

This is brilliant: The gay rights movement should align with the privacy movement.

I think the writing is already on the wall in favor of that movement.

The biggest civil rights movement left is the War on Drugs, with soldiers routinely terrorizing minority communities, putting them in chains en-masse, taking their right to vote.

Considering the DEA's use of Laundered NSA intelligence, and the Black Caucus's support for the Amash Amendment (due to the FBI's historical relationship with the civil rights movement) this might be a good fit.

Hard to have the tech industry back it when most of it is taking part in the surveillance.

Given that not taking part is not an option given current laws, hard to place the whole weight of the blame on them. They might have put a better fight, but the result - until the voters in general take notice - would be the same.

Do you think oil companies and banks look at a law, say "gee" and then throw their hands up in the air and cave?

Sometimes they do, sometimes they find ways around. So we need to give tech companies strong monetary incentive to find ways around surveillance state.

And with the gag orders of NSLs, it's hard for the voters in general to take notice through actions of the companies.

Too much of this is secret, Star Chamber stuff for the voters to be easily involved.

The NRA actually does stand up for privacy: of its members, anyway. You've probably heard of those stances being used against the NRA sometimes, for example, when they've fought to prevent the Feds to deny gun rights to people who have been placed on terrorism-related suspicions list (which, by some reports, was as inaccurate as the no-fly lists).

If you hate the NRA, it's easy to paint this political stance as nothing but a move of pure-gun-lust...however, such stances set precedent for other privacy related rights. To put it another way, just because the ACLU defends pornographers, it doesn't mean the ACLU is doing it purely out of love for pornography.

edit: In any case, there will never be a "NRA for Privacy". Pause and think about it. What does the average person experience in terms of privacy invasion? Not too much, and not at a constant clip. Would that average person be able to discern between heavy privacy protections versus some privacy protections, on a daily basis? Not really, you mostly only know your privacy is being invaded when it's too late.

Compare that with how your life as a gun owner changes if, say, conceal and carry is revoked. Or AR15 rifles are banned. You experience that immediately.

Also, good luck getting celebrities on board. They are used to having their privacy violated as a matter of routine. For them to experience a real change in privacy would involve infringing on certain First Amendment rights (look up the difference between public and private figures)

It's called the EFF.

The problem is, it's mostly supported by individuals, not the industry. And there are a lot more individuals interested in gun rights than electronic rights. It has a budget that's a tiny fraction of the NRA's.

In the sense that they're defending our rights, yes you could say it's EFF.

But I'm a little worried about the idea of EFF having to lobby Congress the way NRA does (by paying them). I wouldn't want EFF to become a corrupted organization because it starts receiving a ton of money from the industry instead of the users.

> I wouldn't want EFF to become a corrupted organization

I don't think any NRA member thinks they are corrupted. They are doing the exact job they are supposed to given the rules of Washington DC. Like the ACLU and other rights organization they know to defend the extremes because the first compromise will not be the last. Sadly, there is no room for reasonable where rights are concerned.

I don't think any House or Senate member fears the EFF during election time. If we want the 4th amendment to be defended, then we need an organization they do fear.

This is politics, if you want to win you have to play the game.

Yes, but there is a big difference (at least in my mind). While the notion of the right to bear arms is conceptual, what it aims to protect is actually tangible (Iron and Lead) and people would feel impacted (can't go hunting, or could not 'protect themselves', the latter being less tangible.)

So it would have to appeal to people differently. Psychologically, 'privacy' is higher up the hierarchy than 'security' and 'food'. I think that's one of the main hurdles.

Is gun industry bigger than Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, eBay, Rackspace, Godaddy, etc. combined? The latter are directly affected by the government policies regarding privacy and certainly their clients would appreciate their companies standing up for their rights. The users should just be more vocal in expressing it. Maybe if you're just a hobbyist who nobody knows your voice won't be heard, but if you're a known person in tech would, people would take notice.

The total revenue of the gun industry (which doesn't count a lot of ancillary things like hunting lodges) is 1/8th of Google's---which points out one way this analogy isn't useful. We gun owners are powerful because they're are a lot of us, we're organized, and we vote.

Getting Google et. al. to resist this requires an entirely different approach.

Ah, one good analogy: while it was owned by some Brits, Smith and Wesson was the only company to play ball with the Clinton Administration in 2000 and it got crushed by a boycott: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith_and_Wesson#Agreement_of_2...

But, then again, it's only because we're politically organized, and had to do so in self-defense starting in the '70s, that this came about. But if a prominent Internet company lost 40% of its business due to privacy issues that would get serious attention.

Maybe this will cause people that value privacy to organize.

There's a reason the NRA can do what they do: Guns are a >$30B/year industry.


According to the NRA's 2010 form 990[1], total revenue in that year was $227 million. According to your link, only one corporate donor gave the NRA between $5 million and $10 million and four gave between $1 million and $4.9 million, etc.

$100 million alone was from membership fees, $11 million from royalties, $11 million from sales of goods, $20 million from advertising, etc.

Those who claim that the NRA is just an arm of the firearms industry don't understand the fervency of gun owners in the US.

EFF needs to be the NRA of privacy and electronic freedom and everyone needs to get as fervent about privacy as gun owners are about the 2nd amendment.

1: http://ia601205.us.archive.org/32/items/NationalRifleAssocia...

$11 million from sales of goods

In related news the EFF should definitly clean up their merch offerings. Especially their fashion section looks like crap. I would definitely leave more money there for apparel that appeals beyond a DefCon crowd. With a single blog post "submit t-shirt designs" and a followup with a bit of voting would fix that problem. Or just having one getting design by somebody like Fairey.

Your post made me think that the EFF logo is pretty cool, and I would totally wear a T-shirt with that on it. I went to their merch page, and...they don't have one. The only shirt they have is the "Kingpin", with a metal-band-ified version of the handle of a hacker I've never heard of. What?

I never claimed that the NRA is an arm of the firearms industry. Firearms are a viable enough commodity that they generate such revenues. Large corporate donations indicate the industry's health. Certainly it is because people like, and often need, their guns.

Bottom line, there's vastly more money going into fighting against privacy than for it.

There is also vastly more money against the NRA than for it. With Bloomberg around, it's essentially infinite. You don't need money. You need people who care.

I think has more to do with having 5 million members. Just for comparison, the ACLU has 500k.

If the EFF had 5 million members, we could throw our weight around too, but for some reason they don't have membership, only donations.



Where most of the customers are governments. The gun industry donates less than 10% of the NRA's budget going from your link.

Hasn't been true for some time, except for a few companies. For most of the last century and continuing into this one, the US civilian market has been the most healthiest and reliable. E.g. while there are fads and fashions, we don't select guns because of politics or direct bribes.

Fabrique Nationale of Belgium is a great example, they've been selling to the US market since the '20s or '30s, the first shotgun in my family is a Browning Auto-5 with FHN markings bought by the grandfather I'm named after, we still have the papers for it.

That's just not true. The NRA pushes the industry (which is quite small) around, not the other way around.

[citation needed]

Something you can reconcile with the NRA's $1/4 billion annual turnover would be great.

As far as their money goes. 4 million members at ~$25 per year = $100 million in annual revenue from dues alone. That doesn't count donations. The industry does of course contribute, but the mistake gun control activists make over and over again is that they assume the NRA is about money. They think they can outspend the NRA and win. They can't because the NRA is not about money. It's about people who are well organized and passionately engaged in the cause.

If you listen to people talk, you'd assume the NRA is one of the big spending DC lobbyists. They're not. Look up where they rank on open secrets and how much they donate to candidates. They have a presence, but it's no where near indicative of their power.

About a week before each election every NRA member gets a bright orange postcard in the mail with a list of the candidates, local and national, that are up for election and exactly what the NRA thinks of their stance on guns. Those members pay attention and vote. That is what makes the NRA powerful.

I have the impression that the following are true of the NRA (with comparison to the National Association for Gun Rights)

1. They don't file audited accounts (the NAGR are as bad)

2. 4 million members is widely seen as a large overestimate (the NAGR figures don't attract as much noise)

3. The NRA board aren't really accountable to their membership (the NAGR says they are)

4. It's unusual for a grassroots organisation to have most of its money come from sources other than membership fees and merchandising. The NRA seems to be around 40%, the NAGR claims that most of its money comes from subscriptions. It is common for corporate supporters to make donations on behalf of lobbyists, rather than to the lobbying outfit, and pay the lobbying outfit "consultancy fees".

> About a week before each election every NRA member gets a bright orange postcard in the mail with a list of the candidates, local and national, that are up for election and exactly what the NRA thinks of their stance on guns. Those members pay attention and vote. That is what makes the NRA powerful.

That's a good argument. I'm not sure what I think, to be honest, but the EFF seems to be grassroots to me in a way that the NRA isn't.

The NRA has had the freaking IRS audit it; I know during the Clinton Administration, I'd be surprised if that was the only time. And I'm pretty sure it has an independent auditor, it's huge, the NAGR is completely obscure and very close to being a lifestyle company/scam.

The NRA has serious credibility and no serious person doubts their 5 million cited membership number. You do realize that's only a fraction of the country's gun owning population?

OK, today the NRA is not accountable to its membership, I'll grant you that hands down. But it was during the critical period of the '70s.

> freaking IRS audit

I don't mean tax returns, I mean regularly filing audited accounts. If they have filed those, I'd be delighted to find out where I can obtain them.

> no serious person doubts their 5 million cited membership number

The figure for NRA membership has been an active controversy for the last decade, after a former NRA board member asserted that the NRA was lax in a number of ways about how it maintain its membership list (e.g., not taking people of their list of life members when they died). The WaPo did a short Q&A about it - http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/does-t... (a rare example of a WaPo story on the NRA that didn't get attacked by the 2nd-amendment media)

> only a fraction of the country's gun owning population

At what, 2%? Which makes the fact that they are de-facto the voice of gun-owning voters kind of odd.

Do you really think an organization of that size and under that much political scrutiny would get away with such a lie? Not to mention the defrauding of their advertisers that would have to take place.

Even the Washington Post's fact checker column couldn't find fault with their numbers. And that's as anti-gun a newspaper as exists.

Look up the profits of the two major (only?) publicly traded gun companies (Ruger and Smith & Wesson). Compare them to any single tech giant. The sporting arms industry is tiny.

As far as the NRA pushing the industry around, there was a very public spat with Smith & Wesson around 2000 that nearly ruined the company. Google it. These days, the industry is more in line with with the NRA, but make no mistake about who has the power - it's the NRA (i.e. the customers).

It's amazing. The NRA is one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the USA. (http://www.timewarner.com/newsroom/press-releases/1999/11/FO...)

That link is from 1999. Also according to https://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=D000000082 they are the 174th largest lobbying group.

I'm not talking about largest at all, that's not important at all. They surveyed lawmakers and congressional staffers and asked them which lobbying group is most INFLUENTIAL. That's what the data is about. Size doesn't matter, influence does. I looked for later data, but it looked like Fortune stopped doing the survey in 2001 and in 2001 the NRA was #1.


Straight from the horse's mouth:

"NRA ranks no. 1 in this year`s "Power 25", Fortune magazine`s listing of the most influential lobbying groups. Compiled by Fortune`s senior writer and Washington bureau chief Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, the "Power 25" is based on responses to a survey sent to over 2,900 people, including every member of Congress, senior Capitol Hill staffers, senior White House aides, professional lobbyists, and top-ranking officers of the largest lobbying groups in Washington."


Oinksoft's comment that you replied to was making a point about money. It seemed like you were agreeing that the NRA bought influence.

And they have their own lobby, the National Shooting Sports Foundation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Shooting_Sports_Founda...

That's the clearest response possible. I think the radical part is that we are going to have to convince the general populace that PAYING for privacy is going to be the way going forward. If we move into that realm because the government will not stop spying, then it might be a lot easier to have the privacy organizations band together with financial might. (The EFF is awesome, but they are not nearly big enough)

How big is the part of the tech industry that relies on user trust?

That's different, people have to use Facebook because all of their friends and family are on it.

If you don't like the company selling guns then you can easily go to another one -- you're not invested in one particular company.

Very true, the network effects work in our favor when it comes to guns. E.g. if you're set on many designs you only have one company you can buy it from (but almost always many ammo companies), but the more popular ones out of patent protection have multiple companies making them, e.g. AR-15 and M1911 pattern rifles and handguns, dating from the '50s and, well, 1911 ^_^.

And there's no single category I can think of that's sole source, not counting curiosities like FNH's PS90 (as seen in original full auto mode in Stargate).

The NRA is a powerhouse because millions of Americans (and manufacturers) care enough about guns and the 2nd amendment to be willing to donate and pay fees to the NRA.

Privacy? Not so much. But we do have the EFF. So donate!

and the FSF!

Except that the FSF doesn't care whether technology is used to erode civil liberties, as long as the source code is available.

Sorry, I have to speak up for Mr. Stallman here; that is not correct. Free software is Free as in Freedom with the explicit goal of protecting the users' rights and liberties. FSM is NOT simply an "open source movement".

This is why rms gets up in arms when people describe his views with the phrase "open source".

I don't agree with Stallman's level of zealotry, but I understood his stance a lot better when I discovered that one of the core motivators for a full open-source stack is the ability to audit whether you are being spied on. I don't believe propietary software is evil, but neither can I argue with that logic.

My point of view about this is that if releasing the source code and allowing modifications and redistribution was the norm, technology that erode civil liberties would be naturally selected out or replaced.

Wrong. The NRA is a powerhouse because they have the money to continue to persuade Americans to care about guns and the 2nd Amendment within their twisted, absolutist interpretation of it.

That's a myth. The NRA is not among the big spenders in the lobbying world, and money has little to do with their power. Michael Bloomberg pretty much proved that when he dropped $12 million and came up with nothing to show for it.

Your tone suggests you have made up your mind on this, but if you really want to know why the NRA is powerful, read this: http://www.forbes.com/sites/amyshowalter/2013/05/16/five-rea... .

It's the people, not the money.

That's a very good article (read it when it came out), it leaves out several reasons:

As the first "Called-Out" comment notes, it helps when you are right. For the current privacy concerns ... that's messier, e.g. there are people who want to harm us, like the Boston bombers, then again, our national security apparatus was completely useless against them, or the underwear bomber despite explicit warnings from e.g. his father. Etc. My point is that this is a lot less clear cut.

Most importantly, gun owners vote, and there are a lot more of them than NRA members. We vote in numbers that easily throw many elections, or even control of the Congress as in 1994. There are many national level politicians who found themselves spending more time with their families after betraying gun owners.

So we need to get more people voting on privacy. I should close this off for now, but I've got some observations I'll probably post at top level on how this works for gun owners.

Indeed, it's as much as a cult of personality as Apple is.

Here's the Steve Jobs of the NRA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ju4Gla2odw

Those aren't gun-toting wingnuts in the audience, they're business leaders and politicians. You can't buy that kind of reverence.

I'm sure there are a lot of prominent people that still remember fondly about the past, and when they die their sentiment will die with them.

Heston was an amazing spokesperson. Love that speech. The perfect emotional appeal combined with giving a higher purpose and sending for the audience.

Just wish privacy advocates would stop fumbling on their Macbooks and instead find that universal appeal in their speeches. Imagine getting JPB's "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace" presentend in the Heston's kind of way.

Wow that forbes article is fantastic. I think the privacy campaign can afford to learns lots from this...

I think it's safe to say that most pro-gun American's would hold their pro-gun views with or without NRA propaganda. (but don't get me wrong, the NRA does spew plenty unwarranted of propaganda) Guns are very much a cultural issue, and if you are completely and 100% anti-gun, you are lacking a similar amount of empathy for people's rights as the very political groups you rally against.

I suppose you think the Constitution is a "living and breathing" document too, right?

Instead of calling lysol out for spouting non-factual rhetoric, I'll address this point as well.

I'm a Constitutionalist. I'm (very slowly) studying for the bar (without college or a law degree) so that I can understand the Constitution better.

The Constitution is a living, breathing document. It lives and breathes through ratification, and through amendments. The problems we're facing in our day is that people are violating its tenets without bothering to ratify, especially where they know that such a ratification would be futile.

I'm a gun owner, and a Constitutionalist, and I've long said, that if it were truly the will of the people enough that the second amendment were ratified out of the Constitution, I'd abide it. Until then, almost every act against the second amendment is an attempt to circumvent the Constitution, and should cost politicians their jobs.

I don't care if a politician supports or does not support the second amendment, but I damn well care whether or not they're upholding their oaths of office, the first of which is to defend the Constitution. Very few of them do.

Edit: Re-reading that, I come off emotional, which isn't intended. I was put off by lysol's rhetoric, which is why I deliberately didn't respond to it, but I meant to basically agree with you, sans one point of clarification, and got carried away. Regards.

You are correct and my remark was a bit crass. I agree with you completely: instead of sidestepping the Constitution and fending off claims of Constitutional violations with secrecy, we should be amending it.

I think I understood your intent as noble enough -- it isn't living and breathing in the sense that it is just there, waiting to be reinterpreted by whomever is in charge.

Currently 59 comments on this post, 2 hours old, I did a ctrl-F "epic" and get no results.

So apparently no one at Hacker News knows about EPIC:


which is, more or less, what the original poster is asking for. They're not militant, I suppose. They don't have the same level of anger that the NRA manages to harness, don't have talk radio hosts promoting them, that sort of thing. But they do exist and are focused on this one issue of electronic privacy, and yet apparently are failing at their job of self-promotion, because no one on HN knows they exist.

Are they failing to do enough outreach? Is a different organization really needed, or does EPIC just need to do a better job of marketing itself?

Put this in historical context: I'd say we're in the early '70s period, after the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 but before the BATF a bit later starting to abusively enforcing it and word of that got out; critically we don't have specific examples of national security privacy violations, let alone atrocities.

How politically powerful was the NRA back then?

Not very; in fact, a few years later it proposed to close their D.C. HQ, get out of politics altogether and return to its original marksmanship etc. role. Only a member revolt at the 1977 annual meeting in Cincinnati reversed that and e.g. established a formal 503(c)(4) lobbying and political arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, which rates politicians, sends out those orange postcards with scores before elections, etc. etc.

Just look at their website. It feels like they just made the transition from having been a newsgroup.

> They don't have the same level of anger that the NRA manages to harness, don't have talk radio hosts promoting them, that sort of thing.

Then they are not going to be effective during election time.

Go. Right now. Donate all you can to EFF. NOW.


Other ways you can help EFF, like using their Amazon referral link:


I don't think it'll work.

The NRA & the gun industry have successfully marketed a product, and the NRA has successfully marketed itself as the means of protecting customer's rights to that product.

Note, the NRA doesn't have to be the one that markets gun ownership as a positive - that can come from any number of sources, inside and outside of the gun industry. The NRA just has to give the image of being the political outlet to protect that right. Thus the media and/or possibly the gun industry can throw gas on the fire to show that guns are a necessity of American life and in turn because of it's perceived credibility on the issue people vote according to what the NRA says.

Now, presently I don't think either the NRA or the industry really has to do much work marketing guns. All they have to do is hold back the tide whenever a tragic event happens and forestall action when the willpower to change is present. Then, when election season rolls around, they just remind their members how to vote.

In the case of privacy there is #1 no product, and #2 no clear "defender" of our right to privacy. Further, given the nature of privacy, I don't think there will ever be a clear product or defender for/of that right. Without that, there's never going to be the approach that markets the product as a necessity or a group people will pay attention to when voting.

Just think about the ACLU - part of their mission is privacy. But yet I'm sure half the people who care about internet privacy don't even like much less trust the ACLU. EFF - majority of the population hasn't heard of them. It's just too sensitive of an issue to have a blanket organization representing everyone's interest.

Finally, as a side note, I think I would pay for an email service like this: free email, with conditional payments. Whenever the service receives and refuses a government request, it charges a very small fee (couple cents or even a penny - will wait till x amount has accrued before charging card). Then in turn, the payment fee goes to the campaign of a pro-privacy candidate or organization like the EFF etc.

More to the point the NRA's mission statement is really freaking clear.

Allowed to have gun? C/D

Privacy is way more complicated, and an inherently psychological endeavor.

Free from government snooping? C/D

is a much more complicated question, because it is untenable for governments to know nothing about their citizens or companies (it is good that we license drivers, and that restaurants have health inspections).

Also, the NRA holds a special relationship with an industry. The NRA is the lightning rod for attention after fire arms tragedies. No one ever goes in for gun companies after something like Sandy Hook, instead they go raise money off of the NRA.

There is no similar (legal) industry on which privacy and/or secrecy is a prerequisite, and for which a lobbying proxy would be useful.

Privacy isn't explicitly guaranteed in the Constitution. So the Court has tended to side with the Government on matters of National Security vs. Privacy. In fact, the Constitution guarantees searches for the Government, so long as they are reasonable. On matters of national security versus a database, national security readily wins. The Court finds those searches reasonable.

So, in the case of Privacy, you aren't fighting your Representatives who can be bought to change laws. You are fighting the Court. That fight is much more of a long game. And that long game would seem to be better won through broader Civil Rights which are already under attack. Read the First Amendment and think of Snowden and the media. Read the 4th and consider the broadness of "unreasonable" and where it extends to property seizure laws. Heck read the 8th and consider how broadly solitary confinement is used as punishment in our prisons. Or how anti-drug and anti-marriage laws restrict personal choice. To me, protection of our broad Rights against the Leviathan is the issue of our time.

That said, the 2nd Amendment is also an ally in this fight. In contrast to Privacy, the right of gun ownership is explicitly guaranteed and the NRA is a partner in questions of privacy. We just need to help them realize that the national security apparatus could easily be expanded inwards to target gun owners. We need to help them realize that the technology to do so is already trivial for the Big Bad Government.

We realize it, but one of the secrets to the NRA's success is it's single issue focus, it doesn't give people unrelated reasons to not join it, as what you recommend would do. Unless it directly impinges on it or gun owners, like McCain-Feingold's suppression of political speech, it's not going to get a major push, although I'd expect it'll be added to "reasons we can't trust the good will of those in government".

You say single issue, but really the NRA is single Amendment. They fight for a strong, individual right within the 2nd.

Privacy, unfortunately, doesn't have that same focus within the Constitution. Where the 1st gives, the 4th takes away esp with respect to National Defense. So Privacy advocates are left to fight a broad argument based on the protections in the 1st and by narrowing the definition of reasonable searches. That's a much harder problem and a long game that requires many, complementary actors.

it's called the EFF.. DONATE!

ABSOLUTELY. Everyone who cares about privacy should support the EFF. I 100% agree.


I would argue that with all due respect to the EFF, they have not achieved the desired result (yet). Arguably this is because it has remained what mainstream american would call a fringe interest group.

I find it hard to believe that the general public, if in fact educated (albeit briefly, but effectively) about the issue of what's happened to personal privacy in the USA over the past 15 years, would care less about it than say the right to buy a military assault rifle at a private gun show.

We need an aggressive EFF. It starts with money. We need an EFF that way more aggressively pursues big big money and big big names, names that joe the plumber and soccer mom sally would "respect" (I'm talking about movie stars and celebrities, people).

The NRA has (had actually) Charleton Heston.

Why doesn't the EFF have ... Oprah? or Ashton Kutcher? or Will Smith? or Tom Cruise?? (oh never mind that one, actually)... or Katy Perry? you get the idea

Beyond celebrities, who is the corporate America sponsor?

Personally I feel that if you want to get it done you'll need both celebs and corporate backing.

//sigh... I feel dirty. I'll go shower.

The EFF has Bruce Schneier...


It comes down to this, Does the EFF scare Senators and Representatives at election time? If the organization that defends your rights doesn't scare the hell out of a campaign (to the point opponents demonize the organization and its members) then they are worthless for advocacy in this era.

The NRA does this and, like the ACLU, knows to defend the extremes. If we want the 4th amendment defended, then we need that type of organization.

Systems like PRISM should be a lobbying issue for the NRA. Background checks and gun ownership registration become moot when the government has copies of all your web browsing history, purchasing activity and correspondence. PRISM is the biggest threat to the second amendment, the NRA needs to wake up to this.

Unless it directly impinges on what they're doing, like McCain-Feingold's suppression of its political speech, the NRA is resolutely single issue, which is one of the things that makes it so powerful, they don't give gun owners unrelated reasons to keep them away or oppose them. Compare to the 2nd largest, but very very small Gun Owners of America and e.g. their up front and continuing opposition to Obamacare.

Getting to your specifics, the NRA and I assume a large fraction of its membership know the government knows the latter are gun owners, it's very very hard to keep that secret, and most of us don't bother. Why bother when that's probably over half the nation's people?

Heck, if you subtract the states and localities where very few are allowed to own guns, just randomly picking people using a few simple profiling techniques would result in a very high hit rate.

I just don't see it as being a significant enough direct threat for the NRA to adopt it as a major issue like McCain-Feingold.

> the NRA is resolutely single issue,

I never heard a single speech by Wayne LaPierre which would lead me to conclude that the NRA is interested in limiting itself to a single issue.

> I just don't see it as being a significant enough direct threat for the NRA to adopt it as a major issue like McCain-Feingold.

But you seem to understand that.

The problem is that people really love guns.

People only like privacy as an optional concept; what they really like is sharing their personal information with strangers on the internet.

Privacy is what economists call an "externality" - i.e., the full cost of harming privacy is not accounted for in conventional business activity (like pollution).

In the past, naturally occurring inefficiencies helped to safeguard privacy. Privacy was free. However, now that the technology to collect, store, analyze, and distribute information is so cheap and readily available, we are seeing a massive loss of privacy.

As an economic externality, privacy can only be protected through deliberate effort. We will not get privacy unless we demand it from society. Therefore, political action is a prerequisite. Pro-privacy organizations will be essential in the years ahead.

How about the ACLU and the EFF?

We need a privacy amendment to the Constitution. It needs to shore up the legalese of the 4th which lawyers have made a runaround.

I think what we need is a public that holds the government accountable to the Fourth.

If you think that the government defying the purpose of the Fourth will be fixed by pushing for another amendment to be passed and then returning to public passivity, you don't understand how the fourth has been "made a runaround".

The Constitution will continue to be treated as something to pay lip service to without substance as long as all the public cares about is having the right words in it rather than the right action (or right restraint of action) by the government. Adding, deleting, or rearranging words won't fix that -- holding people accountable will.

Anyone who watches government in action understands quite well how laws are twisted and turned to meet objectives. It only matters what is explicit, and there is no mention anywhere in the Constitution about "privacy". If this is a value that we Americans wish to continue, then it needs to be codified. Any government action begins with words and the interpretation of said words.

> Anyone who watches government in action understands quite well how laws are twisted and turned to meet objectives. It only matters what is explicit

No, it doesn't matter what is explicit (which anyone who has observed the non-impact of the 27th Amendment would know.)

It matters what the public holds people in official positions accountable to.

Very clearly true. Compare to the very plain language of the 2nd Amendment, which 9 out of 9 Supreme Court justices agreed was an individual right, with of course 4 saying it then doesn't mean anything.

Those who don't support following the 2nd Amendment as it was intended, or amending it, have absolutely no place in fighting for privacy in this fashion, and, really, if you support rule of men vs. the rule of law....

The problem is encryption is useful for many things. Some good, some bad. It's great for underground humanitarian organizations in third world countries...it's also great for kiddy diddlers hiding their stash. But the tech is the same, so we pick both or non. Right now, government is leaning on none.

That's not a problem unique to encryption. Firearms have good uses and bad uses - you can hunt and feed your family, or you could kill someone. With a powerful privacy advocacy group, as proposed by OP or like the EFF as mentioned by others, you can have the same voice like the NRA does to promote responsible "good" uses of firearms but for privacy technology.

The NRA is not the most gun-friendly organization. The JPFO and Gun Owners of America are better. The NRA is a sellout, compromising on principles in order to maintain political power.

Just as the Rutherford Institute is more protective of individual rights than the ACLU is.

But you're right we need an organization for privacy.

The EPIC and EFF are not enough.

We can't expect such association when the biggest internet companies in America (Google, Facebook, Yahoo...) clearly don't care about privacy. It's all about money.

Google don't be evil? FAIL

I think the issue of privacy is being intentionally and collusively kept a series of domestic affairs by national state agencies.

We need a global charter for privacy rights.

I think such a thing would be unenforceable without the consent of those same nations which currently ignore privacy rights.

I would join this, and be as militant as the NRA.

We already have the EFF.

It's called the EFF, and please don't compare it to the NRA :P


What has made "the NRA"---really, gunowners, the NRA has but a fraction of them as members---so powerful?

Well, first of course there's a lot of us. Even having only a fraction, the NRA now has 5 million members. The EFF? I would be surprised to learn they had more than 50,000 (couldn't find a number in a quick search).

2nd, we vote, and many of us vote first and foremost on this issue. Especially since it's a good general touchstone, not that more than a tiny tiny fraction of national level politicians really give a damn about either issue no matter what they say most of the time.

3rd, there are many major elections where it's clear gunowners were a necessary if not necessarily sufficient part of the winning side. Gun control at the national level mostly disappeared in this century until Newtown after the Democrats suffered a string of catastrophic defeats from losing both houses of the Congress in 1994 to Al Gore losing by a whisker in 2000. That it was even close is telling, especially since Bush isn't much of a conservative or friend to gun owners, e.g. he officially supported renewal of the "assault weapons" ban.

(Note that it's in our cultural DNA to defy being told we can't or shouldn't have something, be it guns or e.g. drugs. But those are tangible, literally put your hands on them things, not like "privacy", the loss of which isn't immediately visible.)

On the side of the Stupid Party, every post-Reagan defeated Presidential candidate was, or appeared to be bad on gun ownership (Romney's actions were good, but his rhetoric was very bad). Again, the very narrow margins by which Bush won in 2000 and 2004 are probably also telling, bad rhetoric and very few good actions.

Now for some historical specifics that made a difference:

The biggest is how extreme gun grabbers are. While businessman Eric Schmidt is notorious for some creepy even if possibly true statements, I'm not aware of any national level politician who's willing to go on record saying we have no right whatsoever to privacy (whatever they actually believe).

Nothing compared to e.g. Dianne Feinstein's "If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them . . . Mr. and Mrs. America, turn 'em all in, I would have done it. I could not do that. The votes weren't here.", or Michael Dukakis' "I do not believe in people owning guns. Guns should be owned only by police and military. I am going to do everything I can to disarm this state."

Legislation stripping us of gun rights are much more in your face than e.g. FISA, and have much more concrete results (see below). Privacy is much more a Federal issue, although there have been a number of gun privacy atrocities at the state and local level. Whereas the nation frequently watches some state go crazy and e.g. tell you that you can load only 7 bullets in your 10 round magazines ("clips"), and arrest people on that basis. Plus hypocrisy, there are many many carve outs for the anointed, be they police or politicians, or the frequent discovery that a prominent gun grabber owns guns. And all the politicians with armed bodyguards telling the rest of us we don't deserve that level of protection.

Then there are specific atrocities, cases well known by gun owners of innocents brutalized or killed by abusive organs of the states. This became big a while after the national Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed, when the BATF had to find something to do for its Revenuers after sugar price supports killed the moonshine industry.

Our side can point to kittens killed ("I swear I am not making this up"), pregnant mothers who miscarried, people crippled for life, mothers shot dead while holding a baby (Ruby Ridge, in which the BATF was enlisted to try to force her husband to spy), and many many outright killed (Waco started out as a BATF "ricebowl" operation, they wanted some nice video for their first budget in the Clinton Administration). Plus a constant drumbeat of gun owners ensnared by "flypaper" laws in gun grabbing localities; even NYC has realized it's damaging their tourist industry.

And how could I forget Fast and Furious, just one of several Federal Government gun running operations that sent thousands of guns south of the border, resulting in 350 deaths and counting, just to generate better statistics for gun grabbing propaganda (that reason is now on record and any other explanation suffers an Underpants Gnomes logical error).

The very secrecy of our national security privacy problems makes the latter problematical. Ignoring that the targets of the DEA are seldom ones we can empathize with, that they launder the tips they get from the NSA means that as of now I don't think there's a single specific case we know of.

And one final general point: lots of public figures are willing if not happy to demonize gun owners of almost every sort, and gun organizations (we can see the latter in this discussion). That results in strong push-back from the targeted (again, it's not in our cultural DNA to take that lying down).

The threat is certainly more direct and concrete. A lot of people don't know that the recent assault weapons ban that was proposed would make millions of people felons and punishable by 10 years in prison if they did not register their rifles under the NFA (which is currently used for machine gun collectors - it's a painful bureaucratic process that takes months, but allows the ownership of machine guns, suppressors, and other items deemed dangerous by the government).

Practically, NFA registration is something that is not accessible to many citizens due to local roadblocks (requirements for local law enforcement to sign off who have no obligation to do so). It also takes well over 6 months with the relatively rare items it covers now. Adding millions of records to that would have overwhelmed the ATF, and instantly turned millions of people into felons for doing absolutely nothing.

That will get your attention.

At the state level we have many examples of this actually happening.

California passed an "assault weapons" ban 1989, and in an act of amazing bureaucratic/political gymnastics first said a particular obsolete WWII rifle design, the SKS which has an integral 10 round magazine and a medium power round, was OK but you've got to register it, then reversed and decided they were illegal, and for anyone who registered one....

Keeping with the old gun designs issue, let's say you live in NY state and own a "Keep Off My Lawn" WWII era M1 Garand rifle, which has an integral magazine and is fed with an 8 round "en-bloc" clip. Well, now, outside of certain types of competitions you can no longer use those clips, you'd have to carefully bend sheet metal to reduce them to 7 rounds and likely suffer reliability problems. I carry a pre-WWI M1911 design handgun, with modern 8 round magazines; if I lived in NY state, I'd be a felon if I missed unloading one of them by one round.

There are many many other examples of these state and local "flypaper" laws and their enforcement.

As an aside, gun trusts are a decent way around the CLEO signature requirement for NFA items, at least in states which don't ban them outright (sigh, California). (acutely noticed since I've seen <$200 .22lr suppressors on the market recently. Almost like cheap airline tickets, where the tax > the fare.)

Note that the NFA branch has a rule change out for public comment that would include removing the CLEO signature requirements for individuals. It's expected to go into effect sometime next year if I remember correctly.

Of course, since nothing they do comes without a trade-off, they will be making the trust route somewhat more painful (requiring fingerprints and background checks).

I don't think we need SBR/SBS/suppressors (and probably AOWs and most DDs) under NFA at all, but I'm kind of ok with at least making the requirements for select-fire consistent for individual vs. organization, especially after that LAPD Dorner guy.

His is the only second case I'm aware of since 1934 of a legally owned NFA weapon being used in the commission of a crime. I'd strongly disagree with the claim that two criminal incidents in 79 years is sufficient reason to put additional roadblocks in front of the 2nd amendment.

Honestly, it doesn't make sense to put anything under NFA. Silencers are harmless, SBR's are bigger than handguns, and full auto is going to be less effective in the hands of a nutcase than semi auto. There is really no sane justification for it at all.

I'm fairly pro gun but I feel slightly uncomfortable with random people with crew served weapons, mortars, GMGs, etc. Although I trust most random people with $50k to spend more than I trust police departments with weapons like that.

There's an upper limit, I'd say. For me, it's a .50 cal M2 or similar machine gun. I don't think those should require extra paperwork. If you want a 20mm or a destructive device, I can understand regulating that. The 2nd Amendment's intent is served well by free access to small arms, I would say. That is enough.

Pat Buchanan came up with a more permissive metric, "anything that doesn't require a trailer hitch", although I can't see there ever being support for indirect fire weapons like mortars.

However, if an armed citizenry is supposed to keep the government in check, why not HEAT warhead anti-armor weapons? E.g. in the context of this discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6186569 which touches on the widespread police procurement of light armor.

Yes, the basic principle of civilian = police parity seems essential, along with a constitutional amendment elevating Posse Comitatus.

Just when I was beginning to figure it out... What a mess.

I gather that in a lot of states they haven't been put to the legal test. Not a good bet where judiciaries lean more left than the state itself, e.g. any that picks judges with the Missouri Plan, like my home state of Missouri where our Castle Doctrine has been judicially nullified. Especially since you won't find many political profiles in courage supporting ownership of NFA items.

In the cases I've seen state first hand, state law regarding NFA items usually just provides a blanket exemption for legal ownership so long as the item was procured in compliance with NFA procedures.

In those states, so long as the NFA branch issues the stamp and you are (federally) legally allowed to possess the item under the NFA, it doesn't matter whether you or a trust owns it.

Of course, the trust must be valid under the trust law of the state you reside in or else it cannot legally own the items, but competent trust attorneys are not too hard to find.

Ironic that both of them (I believe) involved current or former law enforcement officers, too.

I think this was meant in reply to the comment about NFA weapons and crime. If so, yeah, I find that particularly interesting too.

It also fits with the published data showing that police officers commit violent crimes at a significantly higher rate than non-LEO concealed weapons permit holders.

Yeah. My long-term plan involves either running as CLEO (in a low-population county in WA), and/or becoming a manufacturing FFL (looking at how to make .22lr mini-mag clones at <$0.05 all day, in the $10-20mm+/yr scale -- it's sadly a bit of a black art)

I don't know. It's a pretty standard thing to do these days. Surely you have to make sure you cross all the t's and dot all the i's. But it's not like the practice doesn't have a long history. Seems there are more pitfalls for owning personally.

I think part of the NRA's effectiveness is that "gun people" spend serious money on guns all the time, and there are active ways to use the guns (going shooting, hunting, etc.) which are concrete, and both could be taken away. Privacy is much more abstract, loss of privacy doesn't have direct physical or financial cost to individuals (voters) as it happens, etc.

I'd also be wary of pushing this NRA analogy too far, for fear of deterring anti-gun pro-privacy people (who do exist, and can be quite principled) from the pro-privacy cause. While most pro-gun people are pro their own personal privacy, and pro gun owner privacy (anti-registry), there's absolutely a large contingent who are fine with the government keeping watchful eyes on "those other people", within and without the US, so it's not as if NRA members are inherently anti-NSA/pro-privacy either.

I ultimately care about the tech/crypto/privacy issue a lot more than guns (which I also care about, along with low taxes, non-intrusive regulation, drug decriminalization, open immigration, etc). To the extent that being ardently pro gun turns people off from supporting privacy, I'd personally be more than willing to tone down/cut back on the pro gun message.

Actually, many, perhaps most gun owners don't constantly spend "serious money on guns all the time". There's a whole bunch who have one or two for self-defense in the home and almost never touch them. There are the "Fudds" who buy a few boxes of shotgun shells every year for hunting season, or a box of 20 rifle rounds every few. They're very ... there for concealed carry types, but we don't necessarily regularly spend money on them (most should, because for most skill decays rapidly, but real life gets in the way).

Plenty do, but every one of us feels threatened when we hear someone like DiFi say "Mr. and Mrs. America, turn 'em all in" (even if that was technically only about "assault weapons", a politically defined category, we know what her end game is, guns for her but not for us).

Trying to split the "sporting gun owners" from the "ccw and evil black rifle crowd" was an effective anti-NRA tactic (attempted again recently). I guess I know a weird subset of gun owners who have to buy new safes regularly.

I think CISPA was an attempt to split the security/privacy crowd as well -- there certainly are those who care about infosec just to keep their corporate IP unrustled, vs. those who care about it from individual liberty grounds, the same way.

> I would be surprised to learn they had more than 50,000

The membership drive page says around 20K: https://supporters.eff.org/donate/membership-drive

To me, this is shamefully low...it means that only tiny fraction of people who claim to have a strong interest in online freedom actually have joined.

The sad reality is that in modern politics, money talks, and the tech culture tends to strongly reject that ("the better idea should win"), and thus we don't participate in the political money game, and it's why we keep losing political battles.

> every post-Reagan defeated Presidential candidate was, or appeared to be bad on gun ownership

Curiously, Reagan himself was quite successful as a Presidential candidate, despite pushing through one of the first strong gun-control laws during his term as Governor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulford_Act). I wonder when the GOP tide shifted on that; mid-'80s?

Despite a long history, the NRA was just getting started in politics when Reagan was elected, and was a lot softer back then. The transformation that began with Cox and Carter in 1977 and was later carried on by Lapierre took time to gain strength. Even in the mid 90's I'd say the NRA was not as strong as it is today.

The 1994 assault weapons ban was a wakeup call, and probably contributed to the rapid sales growth of that type of rifle (it's the fastest growing segment in the industry today), which increases support for the NRA - you see how it goes. The more they try to ban the stronger the gun rights folks get. In 1994, AR15's were a niche product that even some gun owners scoffed at as useless. Today they are very much mainstream.

There also seems to be a rise in Libertarian-like thought across all parties these days that probably contributes to the NRA's cause.

But it is a mistake to paint the NRA as a Republican organization. It is far from it. That Republicans tend to support the NRA is a fact, but the NRA is non-partizan. If you look at successful lobbying groups, you'll see that they are for the most part non-partizan. The big unions are an exception, but I would argue they limit themselves by aligning with Democrats.

I wonder if part of it also relates to a shift in which parts of the political spectrum people associate politically tinged, "potentially subversive" gun carrying with. In the '60s it was mainly associated with the militant left, especially groups like the Black Panthers. That may explain why conservatives of the time, like Reagan, supported gun control as part of a general strategy of supporting the police and law-and-order against armed subversives. Nowadays open carrying of guns by groups identifying as left-wing is rather rare, and instead the politics/gun association tends to be more associated with groups on the right, like the militia movement.

This is one issue on which my elderly conservative relatives almost entirely come down on the "liberal" side, though not enough to vote for Democrats. They tend to associate gun ownership with weird thugs and revolutionary communists and generally people who are up to no good. Admittedly, they are not from rural areas, where I assume views have always been quite different (the very conservative relatives I have live in suburban-conservative areas, e.g. some live in Orange County).

The move towards libertarian influence is a good point. I think of traditional conservative views being strongly pro-police (you don't find many liberals in friends-of-the-police type community organizations), but younger libertarians like Radley Balko tend to be very critical of police.

It could be. The NRA is actively engaged in working with a traditionally liberal segment of the population - poor minorities. There are lots of reasons for that, but one big one is that they are mostly Democrats, and the NRA has become too dependent on Republicans lately.

"It's not our fault!"

The nation is polarizing, e.g. too many Blue Dogs got sent home to spend more time with their families, too many never really on our side (re)turned against us like Harry Reid ... we'll see how it goes. Then again, ask ex-Senator Richard Lugar what he thinks of the NRA and gunowners.... What we really need, for both issues, is this bit of wisdom from Milton Friedman:

"I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office."

Of course, for privacy, if everything is kept secret including the courts, how will we know...?

Compared to Carter and Mondale he was OK; neither of them would have signed the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, which stopped the BATF from extinguishing the nation's gun culture.

Echoing damoncali, a lot of Republican politicians who were sent home to spend more time with their families have discovered to their dismay that the NRA doesn't give a damn about the party they belong to.

Wait, can you get me the source for your claim that Fast and Furious was to boost gun death stats? There is no way I'm going to be able to convince anyone else of that without some official memo. I'd assumed it was to generate traces of the flow of guns to various gangs and thereby collect data on suppliers.

Sorry for the delay in replying, some more directly relevant replies had higher priority.

There is of course no official memo, these people aren't that dumb, or rather know the MSM wouldn't get away with carrying their water if one came to light. But there's pretty clear testimony by a BATF whistle-blower of a supervisor's comments that laid it out. While I don't have much respect for anyone in the organization, the rank and file properly had drilled into them the principle that they weren't to let guns walk, it's a cardinal rule and a lot of them are very upset at what happened.

And it's clear to anyone capable of following a logical argument based on three undisputed facts about the Arizona operation (it looks likely there was also a Texas one, and we have some evidence for a Florida/Miami area one targeting Latin America below Mexico):

When gun stores called up the BATF about extremely suspicious buyers, it told them to allow the sales, around 2,000 guns in total.

Unlike the Bush era's Wide Receiver operation, which put radio transmitters in the stocks of rifles, no attempt whatsoever was made to follow the guns south of the boarder, including informing, let alone involving the Mexican government (they're not happy).

Top Cabinet level officials like Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, plus many figures on down, made statements about how American gun stores and shows were supplying Mexican drug cartels despite a paucity of evidence.

E.g. you can't buy grenades or post-1986 manufactured automatic weapons in those venues, and for the usual reasons not really including effectiveness they prefer full auto M16s (originally supplied to the Mexican government by the US) and AK-47s (generally available on the black market, and much less bulky than drugs) to more expensive semi-auto US civilian versions. It should go without saying that the Mexican government doesn't ask the US government to trace weapons stolen from their armories.

The problem is there's no big business in protecting privacy, and therefor no lobbying money. The NRA is driven and funded by gun manufacturers.

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