Surveillance Capitalism, Gun Rights, and NYC’s Incompetent Comptroller Brad Lander

As our lives go online and electronic, with a lifetime of public and private documentation, the risk and ease of surveillance go up. It’s much harder to go through unscanned, undigitized paper receipts and accounting books to find information about someone. But once everything is electronic, either natively or digitized from paper, a herculean task can be accomplished with a query that runs in milliseconds.

The gun grabbers know this. They want to know and track every gun owner. They also know that the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the separation of powers make it very hard for the government to do that. Their end-run around that limitation is Surveillance Capitalism. Wikipedia has a good summary definition of Surveillance Capitalism, reproduced below:

Surveillance capitalism is a concept in political economics which denotes the widespread collection and commodification of personal data by corporations. This phenomenon is distinct from government surveillance, though the two can reinforce each other.

The push for Merchant Category Codes (MCCs) is the first step in the creation of a total firearms surveillance state. The private financial sector at the moment does not have the ability to reliably track gun purchases. But once compelled by the government, it will develop the ability to do so. Once the private sector creates this ability, it can provide multiple inputs for one Big Data join to create a nationwide gun owners’ registry. It may sound far-fetched, but technological progress is unstoppable and so is its abuse. More than 11 years ago, there was a story in the press about how Target used data mining to predict which customers may be pregnant, in a viral article titled, “How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did.” (archived link)

I generally think that the private sector should be left alone. Most companies respect their customers, but it’s not hard at all for the government to threaten a company and coerce it to turn over customer data. But it’s also imprudent to assume that the private sector is an innocent bystander either. There’s evidence that they have voluntarily and easily turned over their customers’ data to the government.

We at Bearing Arms have extensively covered the threat of surveillance delegated to the private sector in the form of Merchant Category Codes (MCCs). Lawmakers in Republican-led states have responded to the concerns of the Second Amendment community by banning the use of MCCs in their respective states. But their laws in response have neither slowed down nor stopped this push.

Case in point: New York City’s Comptroller, who oversees the City’s public pension funds worth over $242 billion, is back demanding it: 

Who is the NYC City Comptroller and why is he carping about guns? The NYC Comptroller website lists his job duties:

Comptroller Brad Lander is New York City’s Chief Financial Officer. An independently elected official, he safeguards the City’s fiscal health, roots out waste, fraud and abuse in local government, and ensures that municipal agencies serve the needs of all New Yorkers.

The Comptroller’s responsibilities include:

  • Conducting performance and financial audits of all City agencies;
  • Serving as a fiduciary to the City’s five public pension funds totaling approximately $242 billion in assets, as of August 2022;
  • Providing comprehensive oversight of the City’s budget and fiscal condition; […]

How has Lander performed his fiduciary duty? Not particularly good in the face of a $10 billion budget deficit. But that’s not stopping him from chasing political clout by going after our Second Amendment rights.

It may take time, but the gun grabbers are patiently playing the long game. Their pretext for total surveillance is “saving lives,” but the proverbial road to hell is always paved with good intentions. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no putting it back in.

Once there’s a specific code for guns, there will be similar codes for every political hot topic of the moment. What if retaliation for MCCs for gun stores comes in the form of new MCCs for abortion clinics? How would the pro-choice crowd like that?

The best way to solve this problem in the larger scheme of things is through thoughtful legislation that protects the privacy of We the People. That’s easier said than done, but the push against MCCs is a good salvo for now.

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