Earlier this month, conservatives widely cited a Daily Caller interview with a top privacy lobbyist at the American Civil Liberties Union, in which he claimed he had “serious concerns” about the proposal to expand background checks. Opponents of the proposal — from the NRA to Senator Rand Paul — widely pointed to the ACLU’s concerns to buttress their argument that the proposal would be overly intrusive into people’s privacy and would create a government gun database.
But in an interview with me today, the same ACLU privacy lobbyist tells me those concerns have been resolved in the new compromise proposal put forth by Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin. Not only that, he said the language in the compromise proposal creates stronger prohibitions against any national gun registry than exist under current law.
In other words, according to the same group conservatives themselves previously cited as credible on questions about privacy protection and intrusive government under new gun legislation, the compromise in fact would make a registry even less likely than under current law.
“It’s our belief that the Toomey-Manchin bill does a good job of addressing some of our initial concerns,” Chris Calabrese, the ACLU privacy lobbyist previously quoted by many on the right, told me today.
In the initial interview that conservatives grabbed on to, Calabrese raised several key concerns (at that point, he was responding to the Chuck Schumer placeholder bill, not the Manchin-Toomey compromise, which didn’t exist yet). He worried it would treat records for private purchases very differently than records on those done by licensed sellers. (Under current law the latter category of records on legit gun transfers must be destroyed within 24 hours; Calabrese worried that the Schumer language didn’t make it explicit enough that this must be applied to new record keeping.) Calabrese also worried that such record keeping could ultimately lead to “the creation of government databases and collections of personal information on all of us.” And he said that gun “transfers” were too broadly defined, which could lead the law abiding to unwittingly break the law.
But Calabrese says the new Manchin-Toomey language deals with his objections — and then some. He points out that the bill says at the top: “Congress supports and reaffirms the existing prohibition on a national firearms registry.” And it also says: “Nothing in this title, or any amendment made by this title, shall be construed to…allow the establishment, directly or indirectly, of a Federal firearms registry.”
“The existing Manchin Toomey language is even stronger than current law in making it clear that none of these records can become part of a national gun registry,” Calabrese told me.
Calabrese also said he’s no longer concerned that “transfer” isn’t clearly defined enough, because it now specifies just what sort of private sale is covered — ones via commercial portals at gun shows and on the internet. “The Manchin Toomey language deals with that as well, because it makes pretty clear where you need a new background check requirement,” he said.
Calabrese did confirm that the ACLU still harbors concerns about a provision elsewhere in the whole gun package — one that would create a tipline for the reporting of potentially dangerous students or situations at schools. But that is not in the Toomey-Manchin proposal, and doesn’t concern what conservatives claim is a central fear — the creation of a national registry.
And on that score, the ACLU says the new legislation creates even stronger protections against such an outcome than exist under current law. Which should be an incentive for conservatives to consider supporting it. Right?