Tim West: Revealing gun permit holders a dumb move
By TIM WEST email@example.com December 29, 2012 10:32PM
Updated: January 31, 2013 6:32AM
Illinois gun owners will doubtless remember a year and a half ago when the Associated Press used the state of Illinois Freedom of Information Act to try to obtain a list of the holders of Illinois Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) cards.
FOID card holders objected mightily, and the Illinois Legislature passed a bill, which Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law, to exempt FOID cards from the freedom of information law and protect the privacy of card holders.
Even though, as a news guy, I would of course always like to know everything about everybody, I agreed with FOID card holders that revealing their names would be intrusive, could be dangerous to the card holder by telling thieves where there might be guns to steal and was, frankly, nobody’s business.
The Illinois State Police know who has the cards, and that information is available to local law enforcement and the court system, and that’s as far as it should go.
Besides, having a FOID card doesn’t even mean someone owns a gun, just that he has permission to buy one or more if he so chooses.
Which brings us to last week in New York state, where a newspaper, the Journal News, in Westchester County, used that state’s freedom of information law to obtain and publish the names and addresses of people in two counties who had permits specifically for handguns.
That list, which the paper put on its website in an interactive format, included thousands of permit holders, including both active and retired police officers.
As a consequence, the names and addresses of cops and former cops were readily available for any felons they had helped put away.
I guess one might argue that, in a society that puts its personal information with abandon all over the Internet, no one has any expectation of privacy at all anymore, so what difference does it make?
But it does.
As in Illinois, the gun owners in New York had a collective fit, but unlike Illinois in this case the damage already was done.
The newspaper defended its action, with its publisher quoted in The New York Times saying, “We felt sharing information about gun permits in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.”
Of course, the slaughter of innocent children in Connecticut was horrible beyond belief, but releasing a list of names of pistol permit holders was an inappropriate reaction that has nothing to do with what happened in the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The gun used in that horrific event wasn’t a pistol, and the shooter wasn’t the permit holder — the firearms he had were registered to his mother, one of his many victims.
There aren’t easy answers to gun violence in our country. If there were, we wouldn’t see so many people being slaughtered.
But for the members of my profession in New York to go off half-cocked and tell the world who in its readership area is licensed to have a handgun is in no way helpful to solving the problem of gun violence. It just puts an unfair spotlight on handgun owners and may even endanger them.
At a time when the press and its motives are viewed with suspicion by a majority of people, not just gun owners, this just adds another log to the fire. And no one needs that.