The scariest thing you will read today
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Said without a trace of irony or humor – leftists clamoring for “Big Data” on gun owners.

The comments are even scarier. These people want this. They desire full state control over every aspect of your life and they don’t see a thing wrong with it.

As someone who worked for a company that held one of the largest consumer data warehouses in the world, I can tell you that the idea won’t work. It’s easy to generate shopping habit patterns. Some of the commenters honed in on how Target can tell a woman is pregnant by what she purchases (and Target isn’t who’s doing that, it is the company I worked for for 11 1/2 years) and thus since you can tell a pattern it must be that you can tell anti-patterns as well. This isn’t the case.

A woman who purchases an item generally associated with pregnancy such as a breast pump or a piece of maternity wear doesn’t get flagged as an oddity since people purchase gifts all the time. The number of false positives is too great to track although the aggregate data is very useful, but only for helping a store or manufacturer determine the best places & prices to set certain items at.

An example of this is paper products. 99% of Americans buy toilet paper (surprisingly, there’s a lot of people who make or simply use ‘other’ rectal wiping devices). Grocery stores don’t tend to sell as much toilet paper as retail stores and there’s a lot of valuable information in the aggregate of who does buy from them but practically no value of the individual people who do.

Bringing this back to the gun data these people are fantasizing about, think about the purchasing habits of gun owners.

  • Those who purchase a gun for self defense, a box or two of ammo, and call it a day
  • Those who own a gun or two and infrequently shoot (I’d posit this is the majority of gun owners)
  • People like me who might buy a gun or two a year and do a lot of shooting
  • Gun enthusiasts who purchase firearms regularly, trade at gun shows, collect, but might not actually shoot (kind of like a stamp collector who doesn’t do a lot of letters)
  • Professional shooters who burn through 1000’s of rounds a month

What pattern does a spree shooter normally fit into? Bullet points #1 & #2, I’d say. Again, the lack of a pattern doesn’t indicate a pattern. It’s noise. Most people don’t buy firearms on a regular basis, nor do they buy ammo in any quantities other than what they will need for a range trip. New gun owners will show up as a blip since they won’t fit a pattern, their initial purchases will flag as outside the norm and because this is a normal situation, it won’t be possible to scan through the millions of new gun owners for the one crazy guy.

Technically, given 100% accurate information and people with 100% perfect ability to write the algorithms, you’d be able to pick out someone who isn’t right with some (not much, but some) accuracy.

And every last tiny bit of that possibility goes out the window when the killer steals his tools rather than purchases them.

Add in the fact that you can’t track lead and that making your own bullets is trivial and that tracking individual rounds has been proven to be impossible, even with such unicorn dung powered fantasies as microstamping, added in with the fact that there are hundreds of millions of guns in circulation that cannot be tracked (I own several unpapered firearms via person to person sales or gifts and have sold firearms that have no tracking capability) and the data you could collect would be useless.

Big Data is an affront to liberty. The stores that do this do so voluntarily. I don’t pay with debit or credit cards nor do I use loyalty cards and thus I am no longer in the system, but I do this because cash is a better limiter to my spending than the benefit I receive to getting tailored coupons (which can still be triggered based on your purchase and have nothing to do with your identity).

However, this isn’t about stopping spree killers. It’s about shaming gun owners and making their lives so impossible to live without tripping a thousand new laws that they just give up (see suppressor, Why I don’t own one). It’s about gaining control over a subset of the populace these people disdain. It’s no different than the Klan supporting tracking of blacks and immigrants, but we’re well aware of the KKK’s bigotry.

That is a bigger threat to you and me than anything else that could be dreamed up by Feinstein or McShoulderThingThatGoes up. And if enough people like those scream loud enough, I guarantee you someone in DC will start trying.

posted by by Robb Allen @
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