ACLU Expresses Doubts About Senate Gun Bill

The ACLU has never had the reputation of being a strong defender of the 2nd Amendment, but they seem to be raising some serious concerns about the gun bill currently pending in the Senate:

As Senate Democrats struggle to build support for new gun control legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union now says it’s among those who have “serious concerns” about the bill.

Those concerns have the capacity to prove a major setback to Sen. Harry Reid’s current gun bill, which includes language from earlier bills introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Caller, a top lobbyist for the ACLU announced that the group thinks Reid’s current gun bill could threaten both privacy rights and civil liberties.

The inclusion of universal background checks — the poll-tested lynchpin of most Democratic proposals — “raises two significant concerns,” the ACLU’s Chris Calabrese told TheDC Wednesday.

Calabrese — a privacy lobbyist — was first careful to note that the ACLU doesn’t strictly oppose universal background checks for gun purchases. “If you’re going to require a background check, we think it should be effective,” Calabrese explained.

“However, we also believe those checks have to be conducted in a way that protects privacy and civil liberties. So, in that regard, we think the current legislation, the current proposal on universal background checks raises two significant concerns,” he went on.

“The first is that it treats the records for private purchases very differently than purchases made through licensed sellers. Under existing law, most information regarding an approved purchase is destroyed within 24 hours when a licensed seller does a [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] check now,” Calabrese said, “and almost all of it is destroyed within 90 days.”

Calabrese wouldn’t characterize the current legislation’s record-keeping provision as a “national gun registry” — which the White House has denied pursuing — but he did say that such a registry could be “a second step.”

The easiest solution to this, of course, would be to treat records for private purposes the same way that records for sales by licensed sellers are treated and destroy the records rather than retaining them. The idea that these records could be turned into some kind of national gun registry is a real concern, and the ACLU’s privacy concerns are well-founded.

It would be nice to see the Senate address these concerns. For the moment, though, Harry Reid is playing his cards close to his vest and it isn’t at all clear how debate he’s going to allow on a bill that already has precarious chances of becoming law.

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Rob in CT says:

    I see the concern.

    On the other hand, if you have to destroy the background check, how can you prove later that you performed the check? In other words, doesn’t destroying the background check record create a huge enforcement problem? How do the police enforce the law about background checks if the same law requires no record be kept?

  2. stonetools says:

    Hey, I really did do a background check for this murderer who bought an AR-15 from me and killed five people with it. Honest injun, I did.I cleared him, he bought it for a good price, and I just destroyed it 10 minutes after he left me, as permitted by law. Trust me. Why, don’t you trust me, you gun grabber!

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The idea that these records could be turned into some kind of national gun registry is a real concern,

    Why? Oh yeah, I forgot, the UN is going to invade and take all our guns.

    and the ACLU’s privacy concerns are well-founded.

    There are many ways of dealing with that concern.

  4. While this is a reason….it’s a pretty weak one. I know we can’t have a gun registry because of how it was used in Red Dawn, but we need some background checks because of how guns are used in every other movie.

  5. Foster Boondoggle says:

    With all the other commenters… How exactly is a registry of gun owners unconstitutional? I get the whole UN black helicopters thing, but (if you take off your tinfoil hat for a minute and let the mind control rays in) what’s actually the problem with a registry?

  6. Dustin says:

    Without some sort of retained record, where is the incentive for people to comply with a background check law?

  7. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The irony meter pegged out on this one:

    In an exclusive interview with The Daily Caller, a top lobbyist for the ACLU announced that the group thinks Reid’s current gun bill could threaten both privacy rights and civil liberties.

    But of course no mention whatsoever of 2nd Amendment rights. Because that’s not a “good” Amendment, or whatever.

    In any event, as is the case with stopped clocks and broken watches the ACLU from time to time is correct, albeit usually in circuitous and often loopy senses. Here they’ve correctly identified the civil libertarian issues, but missed like Rob Deer chasing a Randy Johnson slider the obvious, you know, Constitutional issues.

    Then of course the ACLU like the rest of the left-wing can’t see the practical issues with gun control, starting with the numbingly obvious point that it doesn’t actually do much if anything in real life except to increase legal gun sales and thereby to put more guns in circulation.

    The Senate’s bill is a farce, even without DiFi’s ludicrous assault weapons ban. It’ll die in the Senate. And in any case it’s a moot point, given that no strict gun control measure possibly could get through the House. This whole affair merely is a dog & pony show for the Democrats’ spaced out money bags in the likes of SoHo, Tribeca, Upper Saddle River and New Caanan.

    If the left weren’t batshit crazy in their anti-gun agenda we could obtain a very good piece of compromise legislation: one national background check standard in exchange for complete preemption of all state and local gun restrictions. But saying “[i]f the left weren’t batshit crazy” about this issue is tantamount to saying if water wasn’t wet, or if public schools in Chicago didn’t suck, or if gun violence wasn’t rampant in Chicago, Detroit and Philly, or if San Francisco wasn’t gentrified, etc., if you catch the drift.

  8. legion says:

    @Rob in CT: A reasonable question. I would assume it is possible to retain a record of the _request_ (especially on the Federal database side) without retaining any privacy-damaging data about the _results_ of that check.

  9. Rob in CT says:


    I think you’d also have to retain a record of, at least, “pass” or “fail” because if you did the check and it came back with red flags and you sold the gun anyway, that’s a problem.

  10. Davebo says:

    The ACLU has never had the reputation of being a strong defender of the 2nd Amendment

    Not even close to true. The ACLU has always been a strong defender of the second amendment. It’s just that they have always judged the 2nd amendment by what it actually says, and by how the courts interpreted it such as in United States v. Miller.

    Now if you want to claim the ACLU has not been a strong defender of some version of the second amendment that doesn’t actually exists but is imagined to by many people you’d have a point.

  11. wr says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: “But of course no mention whatsoever of 2nd Amendment rights. Because that’s not a “good” Amendment, or whatever.”


    My God, how incredibly stupid can one man be?

  12. Dave Schuler says:


    Interesting. Not according to the ACLU:

    The ACLU is our nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.

    The statement goes on to mention the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution as well as the right to privacy. I’m guessing that the ACLU sees its role as defending more than the First Amendment.

  13. stonetools says:

    Official ACLU position:

    Given the reference to “a well regulated Militia” and “the security of a free State,” the ACLU has long taken the position that the Second Amendment protects a collective right rather than an individual right. For seven decades, the Supreme Court’s 1939 decision in United States v. Miller was widely understood to have endorsed that view. This position is currently under review and is being updated by the ACLU National Board in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in D.C. v. Heller in 2008.

    In striking down Washington D.C.’s handgun ban by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court’s decision in D.C. v. Heller held for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, whether or not associated with a state militia. The ACLU disagrees with the Supreme Court’s conclusion about the nature of the right protected by the Second Amendment. However, particular federal or state laws on licensing, registration, prohibition, or other regulation of the manufacture, shipment, sale, purchase or possession of guns may raise civil liberties questions.

    Its noteworthy that Doug linked to a Daily Caller article discussing the ACLU position, not an ACLU document. Given the above, I’m betting that the ACLU will have no problem with universal background checks and indeed even a national gun registry. Only paranoid gun nuts are opposed to such measures.

  14. wr says:

    @Dave Schuler: Right. But they have never been concerned with the second amendment, leaving that to the groups that specialize in it. So for moron Tsar to find some new level of liberal hypocrisy here is, well, typical.