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The Dangers of Newspapers Publishing the Names and Addresses of Citizens with Handgun Permits:

Andrew Sullivan has asked "If gun rights are civil rights, why would anyone feel the need to hide the fact that they own one?" A post by Eugene provides a commonsense list of a wide variety of circumstances in which a person exercising her civil rights would have good reasons for preferring that newspapers not publish a list of all the people in an area who exercise a particular right.

In a recent article in America's 1st Freedom, Paul Gallant, Joanne Eisen and I addressed the controversy of newspapers publishing lists of people with handgun permits. We discuss various ways in which the publication can assist criminals. One newspaper which was considering publishing a list was The News Sentinel of Fort Wayne, Indiana:

When the newspaper surveyed its readers, the paper was informed of a situation in which one licensee was living a reclusive, secretive life because of fear of a violent ex-spouse. If the paper published the CHL [concealed handgun license] list, the woman's life would be endangered. The newspaper's final decision was in favor of the immediate safety of that one woman, and thus against publishing the list.
Victims who are hiding from violent stalkers are one group of people with handgun licenses who have a special need for confidentiality; another group is retired police officers, who are at risk of being targeted by revenge-minded criminals.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. The Dangers of Newspapers Publishing the Names and Addresses of Citizens with Handgun Permits:
  2. "If Gun Rights Are Civil Rights,"
Guest Poster:
The logic of the Publishers of these lists(and their supporters) seems dangerously analogous to the logic of "Well, if you have nothing to hide you won't mind if we install this Big-Brotherscreen in your house; if you have nothing to hide then you won't mind this random strip search"!
5.9.2007 2:54am
Brian K (mail):
If it is okay to publish names, addresses, social security numbers, etc. of abortion providers, why is it not okay to publish names of people with guns?



(David Kopel, this is not a criticism of your post as I do not know if you have used this double-standard...I'm just getting a jump start on future posters. And for the record I think both are wrong.)
5.9.2007 3:29am
A. Zarkov (mail):
The newspapers want to publish these lists to make gun owners feel uncomfortable. Most of the MSM oppose gun ownership and use for personal self-defensive. The Bernard Goetz case should make this abundantly clear.
5.9.2007 3:52am
Ted Frank (www):
And couldn't criminals cross-check this list to see which homes don't have guns? That would seem to reduce the positive externalities of gun ownership.
5.9.2007 4:20am
Nellie:
In the state where I live, the local police have the option of conducting an "investigation" before issuing a carry permit. When my husband applied for his permit, the police called on our 93-year-old next-door neighbor as part of the investigation. This elderly lady is often confused; for example, she has told us about conversations she's had with the paintings in her house, and about the full-rigged sailing ships that have come up the (one-foot deep) stream behind our houses. However, the officer didn't figure that out until he'd already told her that he was investigating a neighbor for a gun permit.

A few weeks later, the police responded to an incident at the house on our other side. This elderly lady got upset at that situation and came out of her house pointing at my husband and claiming "That man has a gun." (My husband, who was returning from the airport, and knew nothing of what was going on, was simply trying to figure out how to get back into our driveway since several police cars were in the way.)

Needless to say, this could have been very tragic, if the police had than drawn their weapons on my husband. Fortunately, one of the officers on the scene was the same one who had interviewed our elderly neighbor in the "investigation."

But the situation would never have arisen if the police respected confidentiality in permit applications. If you provide nosy and confused residents with a list of permit holders, there will be more such incidents.
5.9.2007 9:01am
Andy Treese:
Let's not forget a bunch of retired prosecutors, or sitting/retired judges.
5.9.2007 9:21am
pst314 (mail):
In a later post, Andrew Sullivan writes "But I'm not that impressed by wusses who don't want to be ostracized by liberal elites at their neighborhood barbecues. Isn't that part of the point of owning a gun - pissing off liberals?"

I wanted to give Sullivan the benefit of the doubt, but this is just evidence that he is not just foolish but contemptible.
5.9.2007 9:34am
Happyshooter:
If having children is a civil right, who would object to having their young girl's picture, daily schedule, and location plasted across the net?

If having love relationships is a civil right, who would object to having an update of their dating life published in the newspapers?

This is a fun game! I love it when libs use some crappy justification for their acts of hate.
5.9.2007 9:45am
dk35 (mail):
If we have a right to know if an ex-child molester lives next door, I don't see why we also shouldn't have the right to know if guns are next door. They could both do damage to our children.
5.9.2007 10:11am
uh clem (mail):
I love it when libs use some crappy justification for their acts of hate.

Andrew Sullivan is a lib? Who knew?

For the Record: He's a very confused person who is often wrong and sometimes right. This time he's way off base.
5.9.2007 10:24am
Andy Freeman (mail):
Lots of things can do damage to children. (Some would even include Republicans or Democrats in that list while others want to know about income, race, sexual orientation, etc.) Do you have a right to know about all such things or do gun owners share something special with child molestors?

However, it is nice to see that "for the children" continues to be a fairly reliable indicator of a bad idea.

FWIW, half of US households have guns, so it's long past time for you to panic.
5.9.2007 10:25am
Truth Seeker:
Someone should start a web site to list the home addresses and phone numbers of newspaper editorial boards and reporters at papers that publish such lists. What's good for the goose...
5.9.2007 10:25am
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
dk35 -- if you want to know if your neighbor has guns, don't rely on a state database of permit holders: conduct a top-to-bottom search of your neighbor's house, being sure to open all locked drawers, lockboxes, etc.

You're not going to do that? Why not?
5.9.2007 10:41am
Aultimer:
I'd like to amend Truth Seeker's proposal to add a cross-reference to CC permits and whether they've ever had a Brady background check performed.
5.9.2007 10:41am
Fury:
A very interesting situation.

I suppose a criminal could case a house on the list waiting for the house to be unoccupied and then attempt to break-in and steal weapons.

Of course, if the criminal errs and someone is home, well...
5.9.2007 10:49am
Houston Lawyer:
Let's just do away with the secret ballot while we're at it. We can publish the list of who voted for whom on the internet the day after the election. It would cut down on voter fraud.
5.9.2007 10:51am
Sean Lacy (mail):
Gun owners and child molesters once again share the same stigma? let me speak the obvious, this is not the first time I've heard such an argument.

Convicted child molesters have been officially recognized as having committed a crime, and judging from the analysis and profiling of that specific type of crime, are more likely than the general population to be repeat offenders against children.

A law-abiding gun owner has had no such conviction and makes no greater a threat than the sink cupboard full of deadly chemicals or an uncovered pool in their back yard.

In the real world, you ask your neighbor before letting your child play if guns make you feel uncomfortable, you don't endanger the lives of many permit holders for your simple minded belief that no guns is an absolute prerequisite to your child's immortality and neighbor's responsibility.
5.9.2007 10:55am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

Andrew Sullivan is a lib? Who knew?


I'm increasingly suspicious that either s a result of HIV-related cerebral issues, or as a side effect of the antivirals, Sully is suffering cognitive impairment.
5.9.2007 11:03am
AK (mail):
If it is okay to publish names, addresses, social security numbers, etc. of abortion providers, why is it not okay to publish names of people with guns?
Brian K knows where to put the knife. His question requires analysis on several levels.

As an ethical matter, I don't believe there's anything inherently wrong with publishing true information about individuals, particularly when the information relates to some sort of government licensing. In many cases, you can find out this information by contacting the appropriate government agency. Obviously, if the information is published with the intent to encourage acts of violence or other illegal acts against an individual, there is a real ethical problem. But if the purpose and effect of such publication are not illegal, I don't think there's much of an ethical problem. If someone honestly believes that abortion, gun ownership, pr0n, or eating pork is wrong, he has a right to protest peacefully against those who engage in those practices. I'm certainly not going to like it if someone protests what he perceives to be my vices, but that doesn't make his protest wrong.

I think the real problem here is a violation of journalistic ethics. There is no good reason for an "objective" newspaper to publish a list of gun owners, knowing that publication of that list will discourage gun ownership. This is purely advocacy for the editorial board's favored position masquerading as news, and I think that's wrong.
5.9.2007 11:28am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Am I the only one who has all my official mail directed to a private accomodation address?

I'm sure the psychos will enjoy breaking into Mailboxes USA in search of me and my guns. Note: They're not there.

It is perfectly possible to have one's legal address in a separate state from the one in which one usually sleeps. Address fascism has not yet arrived here as it has in other countries.
5.9.2007 11:50am
A.C.:
Just a minute -- ISN'T pissing off the nanny-staters (often, but not always, liberals) part of the reason for owning a gun? The message is "I'll take care of myself, thank you," and I've heard it put that way often enough.

It really does tend to irk the people who want to micro-manage everybody else's lives, and just try to tell me that's not fun.
5.9.2007 12:02pm
JonC:
Brian K says:


If it is okay to publish names, addresses, social security numbers, etc. of abortion providers, why is it not okay to publish names of people with guns?


Two points:

1. Who argues that it's "okay" to publish the names, addresses, and Social Security numbers of abortion providers? I've never heard anyone make this argument, and I've certainly never heard of any media outlet that publishes such information on individual abortion doctors-- especially Social Security numbers.

2. Independent of my first point, the analogy between abortion providers and individual gun owners is inapt. Assuming that abortion and gun ownership are both civil rights, the more accurate comparisons would be between 1) individual women seeking abortions and indvidual gun owners, or 2) between gun sellers and abortion-providing organizations like Planned Parenthood. With respect to the first comparison, no one would ever dream of systematically publishing identifying information about women seeking abortions, quite rightly I think. With respect to the second comparsion, to the best of my knowledge, the addresses of gun stores and Planned Parenthood locations are already both published in the phone book.
5.9.2007 12:20pm
WHOI Jacket:
Planned Parenthood is in the phonebook. Also, it is plus good.

I'm in there too, but not with a little icon of a pistol next to the name. Not yet, at least. I'm double plus ungood, so folks are bound to try eventually.

Perhaps they could give me something to sew on my clothes, to inform others in case they don't have ready access to a computer?
5.9.2007 12:35pm
Thief (mail) (www):
The right to privacy, it seems, is as much about protecting citizens from an angry mob as much as it is about protecting citizens from an overbearing government.
5.9.2007 12:48pm
Justin (mail):
Just writing to agree with AK.
5.9.2007 12:52pm
Spartacus (www):
Listing Planned Parenthood is like listing gun shops. Printing the names of CCLs is like printing the names of women who obtained an abortion--which n one is proposing.
5.9.2007 1:24pm
sjalterego (mail):
another group is retired police officers, who are at risk of being targeted by revenge-minded criminals.


Not being facetious but the alleged threat to police officers posed by revenge minded criminals is often used to justify allowing retired police officerst to retain concealed carry rights. While I do not begrudge these retirees their rights, I am irritated that I (living in Los Angeles) have to prove a clear danger to myself in order to receive a CCW. Does anybody have any statistics indicating the degree of risk? How many times a year do "revenge minded criminals" actually target police officers, active or retired. I doubt that there is a statistically significant risk.
5.9.2007 1:44pm
Gray Jay:
Since many CHL holders are firearms enthusiasts and hence have more than one weapon, isn't posting their names/addresses just providing burglars a list of targets?

This is a poor idea from Andrew Sullivan, exemplified by the "part of the point of owning a gun is pissing off liberals" comment. How crass and off-base, as well as disappointing, as he usually does a much better job of thinking things through.
5.9.2007 2:27pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
The Supreme Court has ruled that having homosexual sex is constitutionally protected. So why would anyone object to newspapers publishing lists of the names and home addresses of all known homosexuals?
5.9.2007 3:25pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
dk35 writes:

If we have a right to know if an ex-child molester lives next door, I don't see why we also shouldn't have the right to know if guns are next door. They could both do damage to our children.
One group consists of those who have convicted of a felony--molesting children. The other group, by law, consists of those who have never been convicted of a felony. To a liberal I suppose "FELON = NOT FELON" right up there "2 + 2 = whatever the Party says it equals".
5.9.2007 3:37pm
Steve in CA (mail):
I agree that it's irresponisble to publish this stuff, but I also think it's important that newspapers have access to it, and the right to publish it if they want to. If you don't know who the govt is issuing permits to, how do you know whether the process is being abused? What if your county sheriff only issues permits to his cronies, or is issuing permits to mafia figures, or something?

Basically, all govt records should be open to the public, with narrow exemptions for national security and the like.
5.9.2007 3:53pm
Joel Rosenberg (mail) (www):
Steve, you're thinking California, not (almost the rest of) the US. In California, permits are issued at the almost unfettered discretion of the local sheriffs. You don't need to know who has permits there to know that -- and, in general, how -- the process has been and will be abused.

In most of the rest of the country, permits are issued to any objectively qualified individual who applies -- perhaps paying a fee, and taking some training, and checks are built into the system in the same way that they're built into the drivers license issuing system.

Tennessee -- where the list was published -- is part of the majority, where it's an objective process, not the minority, where permit issuance is basically a Petrie dish to grow abuse in.
5.9.2007 4:05pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
I actually understand Steve in CA's point, and with the history of abuse in California, he has a good point. If it led to fairness in California, it would be a strong argument. Alas, all it does in California is expose cronyism (or worse) without causing any change, because the newspapers there like the current abusive process.

I don't even object to this information being public records elsewhere. There might be some merit to independent verification that the background check process is being run correctly. What I object to is the news media using this information to promote theft, harrassment, and in a few relatively rare cases, murder by abusive ex-spouses.
5.9.2007 4:42pm
Waldensian (mail):

Since many CHL holders are firearms enthusiasts and hence have more than one weapon, isn't posting their names/addresses just providing burglars a list of targets?

That's my concern. I'm a Virginia concealed carry permit holder, so my name is one of those made public by the Roanoke Times. I'm also a firearms collector, a fact that I very carefully do NOT make known to random people in my neighborhood.

If you were interested in stealing guns, you could do much worse than (a) compiling a list of nearby concealed carry licensees from a published database, and then (b) breaking into their houses when they're not home.

The "not home" thing is important of course.
5.9.2007 7:59pm
Waldensian (mail):

Am I the only one who has all my official mail directed to a private accomodation address?

I don't know whether the Virginia permit requires the use of your home address (it may), but as a practical matter it makes sense to use it. The permit lets you avoid Virginia's handgun rationing statute, but gun stores generally don't like seeing different addresses on the permit and your other forms of ID.
5.9.2007 8:02pm
PTB:
I haven't had the chance to read all the thoughtful posts, so I may have missed one or more who pointed out the following further argument not to publish this data: the danger (I believe very real) that a citizen whose information is so published will be strongly tempted to act out his anger against the members of the news media who instigated this sort of information "dump". If people become unduly exercised by the "dump"/ mishandling of their confidential personal identity and financial data by careless financial institutions, and they have, I am deeply concerned about the possibility of such a reaction to this sort of deliberate disclosure.
5.10.2007 1:22am