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The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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Glen from Bargain Pawn rang me up Wednesday to read me portions of a Jan. 5 letter fresh from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

“Dear Licensed Dealer,” writes Sgt. Thomas Johnson of the Tourist Safety and Firearms Section (motto: “An armed tourist is a safe tourist”), on behalf of Doug Gillespie, sheriff, “In accordance with Nevada Revised Statute 239B.0030, a person shall not include and a govermental agency shall not require a person to include the social security number of a person on any document that is recorded, filed or otherwise submitted to a governmental agency on or after January 1, 2007.

“Therefore, effective immediately,” the sergeant continues, “a person’s social security number is no longer required on the Gun Registration form.” (Clark County requires handguns to be registered, although the state of Nevada does not. It’s always been an oddity that listing of the Social Security number was required on the county form, while on the federal “Brady check” paperwork it’s specifically listed as optional, with an explanation that providing the number may “avoid confusion” with similarly named parties.

Therefore, the thoroughgoing Sgt. Johnson now instructs all Clark County gun dealers, they should “Remove the person’s social security number that may already exist on the Gun Registration form before forwarding the form to the Gun Registration Detail. ... Any Gun Registration forms received after this date, containing a person’s social security number will be immediately returned for correction.”

Deleting your Social Slave number from the federal “Brady” form doesn’t actually do much good in Nevada, Glen points out, since (despite the fact gun purchases are legal for military personnel stationed here but bearing out-of-state drivers licenses, and for hunters from adjoining states, for instance) the Nevada Highway Patrol won’t run the federally required background check unless the purchaser provides either the (optional) Social Slave number or a Nevada driver’s license number -- from which the Social Slave number can still be easily decoded.

Nonetheless, Nevada Revised Statute 239B.0030 sounds like a creditable if small step forward for privacy rights, so I figured we should give credit where credit is due.

And that would be, according to my source at the Capitol ... Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley, D-Nevada, who introduced this change as Assembly Bill 334. This specific application to the gun registration forms “is probably an unintended consequence,” my researcher commented. “I think the original issue was a military discharge form. Some veterans were required to file this form which contained their Social Security number, and that made the Social Security number a public document. It was an intended as an anti-ID-theft measure, passed in the last session.”

It may be premature to conclude Ms. Buckley has given up all her previous big-government ways. But let’s give her due credit for a small step in favor of privacy and away from government cradle-to-grave tracking of the citizenry -- whether fully intentional, or not.

# # #

Speaking of tracking the citizenry, I must engage in a brief moment of shameless self-promotion to explain why so many folks seem to be forwarding me a news report by staff writer Suzanne Smalley in the Jan. 6 Boston Globe.

Readers of my 2005 novel “The Black Arrow” will recall that, on page 79, young Jack Brackley, the mayor’s nephew, is being introduced to his new duties in the headquarters of Gotham City’s Homeland Security headquarters, monitoring the city’s SonicNet. ...

“The job of the monitors seemed simple enough when it was explained to the visiting schoolkids, though of course there was a lot more nuance to doing the job -- spotting a bogey quickly enough to save someone’s life -- than might be apparent at first glance.

“Whenever a firearm was discharged -- or any substantial chemical explosion occurred -- almost anywhere in the city, the sensitive combination of sonic sensors and chemical sniffers which now covered the city in an intricate gridwork started a red flasher on Biff’s screen -- or the screen of one of the 77 other monitors who could conceivably be on duty at peak hours.

“The operator could then toggle through any of the streetcorner video cameras in range, looking for an image that would show what was going on.

“Meantime, the automated computers quickly went to work, cross-indexing that event against the mission plans filed by police agencies staging SWAT raids at that time, along with the occasional legitimate blasting operations to dig trenching for new water mains and so forth. ...”

But that was only a piece of near-future science fiction, of course -- purposely designed to be sillier than anything the real-life Police State was likely to try, anytime soon. Nothing like that could ever really --

Oh dear. Less than two years later, welcome to the world of us political satirists who Just Can’t Seem to Keep Ahead of Them.

The Boston daily reported last week:

“Boston city councilors, law enforcement officials, and community leaders are pressing City Hall to come up with $1.5 million to buy a promising acoustic gunshot-detection system.

“The sensor system could blanket a 5.6-square-mile swath of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods -- the source of 80 to 85 percent of calls citywide reporting shots fired -- and give officers a jump on arresting suspects, improve police response time to 911 calls, and possibly reduce firearm violence, proponents say.

“Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said he believes the technology would help prosecutors win more gun cases and would require a “relatively modest investment,” given the city’s $2 billion annual budget, the Globe reports.

“Police would be able to get the scene quickly and perhaps apprehend someone fleeing the scene, or identify someone who actually saw something,” Conley said in an interview yesterday. “It would also corroborate witness testimony.”

“The system relies on a network of sensors, roughly the size of a coffee can, that by triangulating can locate gunfire from as far as 1 1/2 miles away within seconds, according to its manufacturer, ShotSpotter Inc., based in Santa Clara, Calif. It is so sensitive and sophisticated that it can isolate gunshots from other sounds, and can even distinguish between shots fired from different kinds of weapons, the company says.”

I can’t really comment, having no technical expertise in such matters. But since life seems to have been imitating art -- or at least a shameless potboiler -- up to this point, one does wonder if the Boston city fathers have bothered to turn to page 80 of “The Black Arrow,” where Jack Brackley proceeds to explain:

“Needless to say, this didn’t always work, and the biggest open secret around here was that the techs were continually mounting new screening software so they wouldn’t keep sending out so many units to arrest some poor nudge with a jackhammer which the SonicNet insisted was a terrorist with a 30-caliber machine gun.”