Gun Control — January 4, 2013 at 7:16 am

Gun owners: “Our 2nd Amendment rights trump your 1st Amendment rights” in New York


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:

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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.

  • As much as I’ve been writing about gun control and the Second Amendment myth perpetrated by the NRA, I have to admit this move made me more than a little squirmy. I understand why they did it, and the impact, the recognition of what it says about us, is undeniable.

    I don’t see it as a safety issue–it doesn’t even come close to the safety issues arising over willy-nilly gun ownership–but it is a privacy issue, and needs to be considered carefully. Posting thousands of names and addresses, even if they’re available elsewhere with some sleuthing, always goes against our grain. We value our privacy and take it as our democratic right. It’s not something we’re willing to give away, even or especially to prove a point. (See on-going venting over Bradley Manning and Wikileaks)

    The newspaper post doesn’t begin to address the numbers of unlicensed gun owners, and they, of course will never be represented on that map. But, going against my own argument, it does one thing of immense value: The unauthorized listing of those names and locations, whether by a newspaper or an individual, shows vividly how little control we have over our lives. It clearly demonstrates, as you’ve said, the need for transparency as maybe the only way of protecting a populace that has no real gun protections, thanks to organizations like the NRA. They hype “a citizen’s right to bear arms” (What a loony, old world phrase that is) without addressing the obvious obligations that must go along with that patently false interpretation of the Second Amendment.

    At best, the newspaper’s actions will prompt some lively discussion and maybe we can keep this gun discussion going until we finally get something done.

    I’m all for that.

  • BillW

    Wait a minute…I thought having a gun meant you were *safer*! How is it that suddenly they can’t protect themselves, the poor little things!

    Let’s take that a step further: If we *know* that schools have people carrying guns, then the schools are unsafe.

    And a step further: Doesn’t the fact that someone *knows* you have a gun make you a “hard target” since having gun free zones makes schools, etc, a “soft target”?

    • All this talk of hard and soft targets… Phew. I need a cold shower : )
      But, yes, they are delicate flowers/shrinking violets when it suits their purpose, aren’t they?

    • Are you home 24/7? I know I’m not. I’d rather not have my address published with GUN OWNER attached to it. I could come home to my safe cracked open and all my guns gone.


  • i understand the stance and i agree. but we must have new laws controlling the sales of guns, as what guns may be sold in this country and what amunition can be sold, and removing the gun show loophole.
    there have been an additional 400 gun violence killings since the newtown slaughter.
    however, i have not heard one gun manufatcure mention or laying the problem on their footstep. why is that?
    the nra should be by-passed in this action. this is not about gun rights or the second amendment, its about inter-state commerce which congress has every right to control, not about gun ownership, but about what guns can be bought. this is about rules and regulations to maintain the health and safety of all americans with the inactment of common sense gun safety laws.

  • DerfelDog

    I think the gun owners’ reactions to the newspaper’s action perfectly illustrates the paranoid state in which they live. As a parent, I always wanted to know whether there were guns in the homes of the friends my children were visiting. I had a friend in first grade who was accidentally shot and killed playing with a gun someone’s parents left lying around, so I regard this as a legitimate concern for parents.

    • Dadadadaa

      Your a fucking dumb cunt!
      And obviously not smart enough to educate your children.

  • R Cox

    Shouldn’t they be proud that the information was made public? I thought the entire point of owning a gun meant that no criminal would dare enter your premises for fear of being shot. Doesn’t making this list public let the bad guys know which houses not to break into? Otherwise the bad guys have to do a lot of homework in order to know which houses do or do not have guns.

  • If I can search where the pedophiles are, then I can search where the guns are if that information is lawfully available.

    • Dadsyourmom

      You’re a pedifile

  • You have made some major assumptions here that need correcting.

    1. “Nobody hunts with a handgun.” Except those who do. Count me in that group.
    2. There is no right to be free from fear. The idiots who fear marriage equality would have a field day with this.
    3. “we have the right to know if and when there are guns around us.” Actually, no, you don’t. I have a right to privacy that isn’t trumped by your right to be nosy.
    4. “Knowing where they are is just as much a right as possessing one.” Where do you get this? Do I have a right to know what religion you are so I can avoid you if it’s not something I agree with?
    5. One final correction and it’s mostly on phrasing: threaten, harm or kill a human? Yes, the point of a firearm is its lethality. You threaten a criminal intent on injury or your death with harm or death in return, not free beer or condoms. I carry, daily, and hope I never have to use it. It’s a last resort.

    What the newspaper did was legal but I don’t agree with it. The information shouldn’t have been publicly accessible. Oh and this section:

    “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?”

    You missed this option:

    “or did they put up an advertisement showing what houses to rob when no one is home because guns are valuable?”

    • These are fair points. Thanks for the comment. I do think you are among a tiny minority that hunts with a handgun and I do think I have a right to know if someone in my vicinity has a lethal weapon, particularly given how many people are accidentally killed each year, many of them children, with handguns that aren’t properly secured. That’s not being nosy, that’s being prudent and informed.

      • Do you have a statistic on that? Last time I checked ‘accidental’ death by firearm was damn low. 200 for those 0-18 in 2000 ( and considering how many kids out there….

        I’m not blowing it off. I think it’s entirely reasonable to ask the adult who owns the house your child will play in if they own firearms. I don’t think this is something that’s good to have in public knowledge. I also am more likely to support CAP laws than I am broadcasting to everyone that I have a CPL and carry a firearm as a part of my normal daily routine.

  • So, on the heels of that, someone else exercised their First Amendment rights. A blogger published the home addresses of people who chose to endanger the lives and property of law abiding citizens, that is to say, the management of that newspaper.You like the First Amendment, obviously, so I guess you’re cool with that.

    • Did you see me complaining about it?


      Well then, you have your answer.

  • Yankee_Farmer

    Putnam County has basis to refuse release, despite what one member of Freedom of Information Law compliance committee voiced to the media. See (b) and (f) – mentioned in the ABC news link below.

    section:Accessible records
    FOIL is based on a presumption of access, stating that all records are accessible, except records or portions of records that fall within one of eleven categories of deniable records (§87(2)).
    Deniable records include records or portions thereof that:
    (a) are specifically exempted from disclosure by state or federal statute;
    (b) would if disclosed result in an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
    (c) would if disclosed impair present or imminent contract awards or collective bargaining negotiations;
    (d) are trade secrets or are submitted to an agency by a commercial enterprise or derived from information obtained from a commercial enterprise and which if disclosed would cause substantial injury to the competitive position of the subject enterprise;
    (e) are compiled for law enforcement purposes and which if disclosed would:
    i. interfere with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings;
    ii. deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or impartial adjudication;
    iii. identify a confidential source or disclose confidential information relative to a criminal investigation; or
    iv. reveal criminal investigative techniques or procedures, except routine techniques and procedures;
    (f) could if disclosed endanger the life or safety of any person;

  • somsai

    When considering infringing on any right I always consider what is the good or purpose and what is the harm.

    I’ve seen this tactic used in other places of late, often it leads to harassment and death threats. Is this a good thing? Has this made anyone safer? Registered Democrats and their addresses are also a matter of public record, how would we feel if the local paper published all our names and addresses complete with interactive map able to zoom in by neighborhood?

    I really don’t see any good by making names such as these public. Is anyone going to be made safer? Only if they were considering which house to break into. Would it change which houses I let my kids go to play in? Not really, I make decisions like that based broadly on the parent and how responsible they are in general.

    There are all kinds of things that are public record, that doesn’t mean a newspaper has to publish them.

    I especially think the hiring of armed guards is hypocritical but very telling. HIred guns for those with the resources to pay for it, but no guns for us poor folks.

  • Jeffrey Cox

    The militia is well regulated via the Militia Act of 1903/08. Privacy however can be infringed. I will grant you that this State has made it public record as to who has a handgun permit and it was fair game. Let us see how long that law will stand now that it has been used to violate so many individuals privacy. I also take offense to your ignorance about side arms. A side arm is most often used when the long rifle is empty and a predator is charging, either wounded or otherwise. Many Hunters carry them as a second line of protection. Pistols are also used in narrow quarters for defense, but must often a legal gun owner only POINTS the weapon with a threat, it does not ONLY need to be a killing tool. Your OPINION of this civil right is as irrelevant as any racists opinion is of Brown vs Board of Education or as irrelevant as the opinion of a Fundamentalist Christians view that abortion is Murder. Opinions do not change a persons Right to equal treatment and privacy to live their life.