Should Firearm Ownership Be Public Information?
Here in the great state of Tennessee we recently had a news organization publish a listÃ‚Â of / link to the information publicly available on the Internet containing the details of individuals who possess a handgun carry permit. This has caused quite a bit of outrage from permit holders who either didn’t believe this information was openly available or who believe that most people would not be able to find the information so easily if not for this news agency making it easier. Permit holders are especially concerned about what the effects of this public data may be.
There has been two primary arguments from permit holders against the release of this data. Some people believe that the availability of this information will put homeowners with permits at a greater risk of burglary because criminals will want to steal their guns. The stats on where criminals get their guns, however, show that they are almost always gotten through a corrupt gun shop or through various gray market contacts.
This gives some credence, then, to the second argument; Releasing this information will put households without permit holders in them in more danger because criminals will want to choose targets with a higher likelihood of being unarmed. This sort of reasoning can also be used to explain why companies like ADT (Home Security) put small placards and stickers around the properties they protect. Home invaders have a motivated interest in finding the ’softest’ target possible.
The last piece to all of this, however, are the non permit holding law abiding citizens. Many of these people believe they should have access to this information in much the same way as they have access to information on where in their neighborhoods sexual predators might live. I believe many of these people have truly noble intentions in wanting this information - for instance, they would like to have more information available when they decide which homes they are comfortable for their children to visit, have sleep overs, etc. Yet, we have to be careful to not allow this information to be used in such a way that promotes neighborhood witch hunts against permit holders.
This discussion may be moot soon as the Tennessee legislature considers legislation to remove this information from the public records. The Supreme Court has maintained in the case of sexual offenders that the information must be public because it is strongly in the public’s best interest. So, does this apply to information about permit holders? If so, why not other things? Should DUIs be an easily searchable public database so I know which soccer dads not to allow my child to ride with? I certainly don’t think the public needs access to this information, we have to draw the line for our right to privacy somewhere.