Good for the goose but not for the gander
On December 22nd, The Journal News in an area just outside of New York City published an interactive map of those people in that area holding handgun permits. By clicking on the dots on the map, you could identify the name and address of the people with these permits. As the newspaper said in its piece, “Map: Where are the gun permits in your neighborhood?”, the data does not include owners of rifles or shotguns which can be purchased without a permit. It also “does not mean the individual at a specific location owns a weapon, just that they are licensed to do so.”
The gun fetishists went nuts.
“It’s an invasion of privacy!” they cried.
“It violates my rights!” they whined.
“It’s puts people in danger!” they warned.
Watching them fall all over themselves to put their 2nd Amendment rights above the 1st Amendment rights of the newspaper to share public information has been very illuminating.
The New York State Rifle & Pistol Association described the action as “attacking lawful firearm ownership” and said in a press release:
The Journal News has put in harm’s way tens of thousands of lawful license holders. This action by the Journal News can only be viewed as an attempt to intimidate and bully lawful gun-owning citizens. The data posted also includes active and retired police, judges, battered and stalked individuals, FBI agents, and more.
The Journal News has made no credible case, or any valid reason for releasing the data, and it serves no investigative or journalistic purpose.
Apparently, the Rifle & Pistol Association has appointed themselves as arbiters of what “speech” is permitted and what speech is not. Based on their comment, they seem to believe that “speech” must be justified and pass their muster before it is allowed. Their complete lack of self-awareness at the irony of saying that this “speech” puts people in harm’s way verges on laughable.
The Journal News piece released information about two specific counties. However, nearby Putnam County refused to release the information in violation of state law. County official Maryellen Odell was on MSNBC’s Hardball last night:
Listen to Ms. Odell’s comments:
We’re looking to see that our constituents’ safety is primary…We want to make sure that their families are safe and themselves, that they’re not put at risk…
This law is a law that could be, should be modified to just make sure that our residents’, their families, their concerns are put first.
Are these not the exact same arguments being made by folks who believe the presence of so many guns in their communities represents a danger to their families? An infringement of their right to not live in fear?
Here’s where this shakes out for me: As Slate journalist Emily Bazelon says, “The state has an open records act that says the name and address of handgun permit holders ‘shall be a public record.’” There is a very good and compelling reason for this: we have the right to know if and when there are guns around us. Handguns serve little if any purpose other than to kill or maim humans. Nobody hunts with a handgun. They are used to threaten, harm or kill humans. Knowing where they are is just as much a right as possessing one.
Because it’s public information, The Journal News also has the right under the 1st Amendment to publish that information. That is, at its core, “speech”. It does not have to be justified to some gun fetishist group. It does not have to explain itself to anyone, though they have done that eloquently, in my opinion. If corporations spending unlimited and exorbitant amounts of money to influence our elections is considered speech that is protected under the 1st Amendment, surely publishing publicly available information is also protected.
This, however, is not a compelling argument for the gun fetishist crowd. So many of them have threatened the newspaper that they have been forced to hire an armed security force to guard their offices. An envelope with white powder was sent to their office, inciting an anthrax scare. Talk about “an attempt to intimidate and bully lawful citizens”.
It’s hypocrisy at its finest. Gun owners want to be able to own their guns in complete secrecy and be the final decision makers about what the rest of us know. This, they tell us, is the meaning of the 2nd Amendment. Here’s what the 2nd Amendment says, in its entirety:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Their focus, of course, is on the “shall not be infringed” portion while they completely skip over the “well regulated” bit.
Meanwhile, they tell us that our 1st Amendment rights are subjugated to this 2nd Amendment right (as they define it.)
Where do you stand on this? Was The Journal News right in what it did or was it an unethical, perhaps illegal violation of property rights? Did it release important information to the local communities about where guns are located in their neighborhoods or did they put up an advertisement pointing criminals away from houses they should avoid?
Let us know in the comments.
P.S. I know some of you will object strenuously to my phrase “gun fetishists”. I won’t apologize for that. I see the near-worship of guns in our society by a minority of our citizens as a sickness; a mental illness. They aren’t something to be worshiped, idolized, or put up on some bizarre pedestal — the Founding Fathers never intended that with the 2nd Amendment. I believe we must evolve away from that sort of freakish idolatry if we are going to progress as a society.