Monday, March 11, 2013

Publishing gun permits lacks benefits

North Carolina legislators are proposing that gun permits be removed from the state's public records laws, making gun permits, unlike business permits, driver's licenses, birth and death records, etc., exempt from public access. Their argument is that publishing gun permits might subject permit holders to crime or some other negative consequence. Newspaper folks are objecting without much success. Other states have already acted to close gun permit records.

Oddly enough, I fought this battle many years ago. It was before concealed-carry permits became part of North Carolina law, but purchase of a handgun (not a rifle or shotgun) required a permit from the county sheriff. I suggested that the newspaper I was editing run a monthly list of handgun permits, just as we ran lists of court cases and deed transfers. As I recall, it was a short and pretty innocuous list. I didn't know any of the folks who were buying handguns.

But the objections came quickly, along with some threats. I recall a particularly memorable visit from a letter carrier and his wife, also a Postal Service employee. Both had handgun permits, and both accused me of putting their lives in danger. "How so?" was my response. They said that if criminals knew they had handguns in their home, the criminals would break in and search for the guns. But if they know you have a gun, won't they be fearful that you might use the gun against them? Isn't that the purpose of a homeowner-owned gun? No, they said, criminals don't think logically. Besides, they didn't want to actually shoot anyone; they just wanted to be able to shoot someone if the need arose.

I took their objections under advisement, and I heard from a number of other permit holders, all saying publication of their names as handgun owners would put them in danger. At the same time, not a single reader expressed support for our efforts to inform them of who was buying handguns in their neighborhoods. Given that lack of support and growing tired of defending the public's right to know when the public didn't seem to care to know, I decided the paper would stop running handgun permits. The issue died quickly and was never heard from again. 

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