the impartial media and virtual scarlet letters.

So a newspaper called The Journal News put up an interactive map marking the location of every single registered pistol permit holder in two New York counties. Predictably, they’re getting a little bit of flak for that.

Also predictably, the paper’s defense is all “that’s public information, and the public has a right to know.” This is a weaselly cop-out. Lots of things are public information, but not smart to collate and present on an interactive map for easy access. Can you imagine the (rightful) uproar if  a conservative-leaning rag published the names and addresses of every single gay married couple in their county? It would be correctly interpreted as an attempt to intimidate and stigmatize the gay couples, and lambasted as a shopping list for gay-bashers to find homes to deface and people to harass. Yes, you can still get that information if you really want it, but you’d have to file a FOIA request and put together all the data by yourself, which is not something the average knuckle-dragging gay-hater is going to do.

To anyone who is entirely honest with themselves, the newspaper’s publication of gun permit holders has only one purpose: to stigmatize gun owners along the lines of sex offenders. There is no public safety interest in this. The map only shows the legally licensed handguns in the area. It does not show the illegally owned guns (which are far more likely to be used in a crime), nor does it show shotguns and rifles, which do not need to be registered in New York state. (With all the concern about “assault rifles”, why publish a map that only shows the handgun owners, and only the properly licensed ones at that?) More importantly, it also exposes the “call for sensible gun laws” as a lie. The map makes no distinction between someone with a .22 target pistol, a five-shot revolver, or a Glock 19 with those evil high-capacity magazines. The people on that map are already following the “sensible laws” that are being proposed by anti-gun activists on a federal level. They are a.) licensed, b.) registered, and c.) subject to an “assault weapons ban” (New York has one that closely follows the expired 1994 AWB they want revived on the federal level.) Why pick on the legal handgun owners if assault rifles are the problem? Why pick on the legal handgun owners if lack of registration or licensing are the problem? Why do so in a state that already has mandatory handgun registration and an assault weapons ban?

The answer, of course, is that they don’t care about that sort of stuff. To them “sensible gun laws” really mean “no guns in private hands”. They also don’t care about the public safety they proclaim their map serves. People who care about public safety don’t provide criminals with an easy-to-use map of who owns guns and who doesn’t. If you know where the legally owned guns are, you know where to break in while the home owner is at work. If you know where there’s no legally registered gun, you know where to break in if you want fewer occupational hazards. And if you’re a disgruntled ex-husband whose battered former spouse chose to back up the restraining order with a pistol permit and a .38 in her purse, you can find her new address and map out directions to her place with two mouse clicks. No, there is nothing you can do with that sort of map that actually enhances public safety.

But like I said—that’s not what it’s for. It’s an attempt of a nominally impartial newspaper to influence a public policy debate by taking a side and clumsily attempting to stigmatize the other side by equating them with sex offenders. Regardless of where you stand on guns and private gun ownership, that sort of tactic should raise eyebrows.

6 thoughts on “the impartial media and virtual scarlet letters.

  1. I would venture to predict that if someone on that list is the victim of a crime and can somehow prove that the perp used the list to target them, a lawsuit will follow. If a significant number of that list become victims of break-ins and such, we’re talking a class-action law suit. There should be consequences for stupid actions.

  2. The Roanoke (VA) Times pulled a similar stunt one Sunday morning a few years ago. The outcry was so loud and so immediate that it was pulled by that evening. There were reports of at least one parole officer who had one of his parolees show up at his home while only his wife and toddler were there, just to say “hi”. I think the only reason the paper doesn’t have blood on its hands is that the database was pulled so quickly.

    Note also that, in Virginia, handgun permits are issued by local Circuit Courts and are, therefore, public information. Normally, that requires going to each court house and requesting the information. There are a couple of papers in the state that do just that, and publish every new permit issuance every month. What the Roanoke Times did, though, was go straight to the State Police with their FOIA request. The State Police no longer will provide that information, since they don’t have a way to filter out the stuff that shouldn’t be released.

    • There was also the little matter of releasing the names and addresses of people who were hiding from abusive partners, stalkers, and other such charming individuals. IIRC, a few women fled their homes, at least temporarily, once their locations became public. Not one of the Roanoke paper’s smarter moves.

  3. Interestingly enough many of the names are also of the so-called “right people”….police, soldiers, retired members of both organizations, who also happen to have permits.

  4. Driver’s license information is technically public information, too, and was easily obtainable until an unfortunately not nameless enough monster got the information of a certain actress named Rebecca Schaefer, went to her home and shot her. But of course, she did not deserve it since that information about her wasn’t in reference to her as a legal participant in a politically unpopular constitutionally-referenced activity.