Currently, the United States maintains no national database of gun owners, and no national record-keeping of firearm and ammunition purchases. Marc Parrish, who has held senior marketing positions at Egghead, Palm and Barnes & Noble, argues over at the Atlantic* that big data—you know, huge datasets of information that are, for example, employed by Facebook and your browser and basically everything on the internet in the interest of Selling You More Stuff—could be structured by such a database to potentially flag worrisome trends and/or purchases before they end in a bunch of people getting shot to death. Links his, emphasis mine:
Just look at the gun-acquiring backgrounds of some of our more recent mass killers to see what I mean. James Holmes, the Aurora shooting suspect, went to three different locations spread out over 30 miles to legally buy his four weapons. All three were reputable outdoors retail chain stores. He then went online, and bought thousands of rounds of ammunition along with assault gear. UPS delivered around 90 packages to Holmes at his medical campus in that short period. It doesn't take a PhD in statistics to see that a quick, massive buildup of arms like this by a private individual — especially one, like Holmes, who was known in his community for having growing mental health issues — should raise a red flag.
In Newtown, Adam Lanza carried hundreds of rounds — enough to kill every student in the Sandy Hook Elementary school if he had not been stopped. But he also attempted to destroy his hard drives to cover his pre-rampage digital tracks. Clearly he feared the data he left behind.
The list of examples can go on. Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech student who committed the worst mass shooting in American history, bought two semi-automatic handguns, along with hollow point bullets, from dealers in just over a month. A few weeks later, he purchased 10-round magazines from a seller in Idaho through eBay. All this was after he failed to disclose information about his mental health on the gun-purchasing background questionnaire (specifically, that he had been court-ordered to outpatient treatment at a mental health facility).
Parrish acknowledges such a proposition would be a serious conflict with privacy rights, something we've been uncaringly hemorrhaging since the advent of the internet, and even more so in a post-9/11 America:
Go into any airport and see what happens when you try and buy a ticket with cash on the next flight out. You will not board the flight without security calling you aside for questions. Go into a pharmacy in dozens of states and buy cold medicine and you will be asked for ID and tracked in the NPLEX database. Go on the Internet and you can read that the cellphone carriers told Congress that U.S. law enforcement made a staggering 1.3 millions requests for customer text messages, caller locations, and other information just in 2011. And that the number of requests had doubled in the last five years. Most of this cell phone data is requested without even a warrant issued by a judge.
There is no outrage by the American public over any of this, even though it causes citizens inconvenience and invades their privacy. We are willing to permit much when we are convinced that it is in the interest of government making us safer.
Obviously, such a system wouldn't eradicate the availability of firearms outright; it wouldn't be, as Michael Bloomberg said of the gun control legislation he proposed, a panacea. Unstable people could still acquire guns and commit unspeakable acts, and the black market will always thrive, especially with conspiracy-minded Second Amendment zealots. Still, trading a little bit of privacy for something that makes it less likely for mass gun killing is a-okay in my book, my fellow citizens' paranoid, delusional, and ignorant fears about "protecting the home" be damned.