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Shotgun News, September 1, 2004, pp. 20-21
Publishing Lists of Permitholders
I mentioned in this column in the March 1, 2004 issue that Ohio's new concealed handgun law had a provision allowing journalists to access and publish "the name, county of residence, and date of birth of each person to whom the sheriff has issued a license or replacement license to carry a concealed handgun...."1 Journalists who argued for this provision admitted that their goal was to publicly embarrass permit holders, by obtaining their names, and publishing them.2 This wasn't an idle threat. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, which had editorialized against allowing Ohioans to carry concealed, published a list of all those issued permits in nine counties on July 28 and 29, including name, age, and county.3
Ohio is not the only state where this has happened. Other states, such as Virginia, Florida, and California, make this information public record, and newspapers have sometimes published these lists, and often for the same reason. The objective of the Plain Dealer is clear: to let all your friends, neighbors, and co-workers know that you might be carrying a gun. Clearly, the Plain Dealer thinks that an awful lot of people are going to shun you, stop inviting you to parties, and otherwise treat you like are some sort of pervert, once they find out that have a permit to carry concealed. But will they? My suspicion is that this may actually work in our favor.
Your friends know you. They may not have known that you had a concealed carry permit. They may not have known that you owned a handgun. Once they find out, however, what will be their reaction? Will they decide that this nice person who coaches Little League, leads a Bible study, eats at the same table in the company lunchroom, or plays on the softball league, is suddenly too scary or dangerous to be around? Somehow, I doubt it. I suspect that more likely, they will say, "Wow! I wouldn't have guessed it! Maybe the people getting these permits aren't the crazies that the Plain Dealer says that they are!" This is especially the case since so many of the permit holders are women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s--not a group that most people fear "going postal." I suspect that anyone that shuns you just because you obtained a permit is pretty unbalanced--and pretty rare.
I make this guess based not on abstract principles, but based on my own experiences. I can still remember a woman that I met at church who was fiercely hostile to gun owners and the NRA. At a church social event, at the height of California's assault weapon panic in 1989, I explained my objections to the law, that I was an NRA member, and why gun ownership was, for most people, either good or neutral. I don't know that I changed her mind about whether guns were good or evil, but she did tell me that she felt a lot less nervous about the NRA knowing that people like me were members and gun rights activists.
I know that I have had similar calming effects on other people with whom I have socialized over the years. In some cases, I was the first person that they had come to know who owned a gun--and a person that they respected and appreciated--instead of the stereotyped "gun nuts" that most of the mass media portray. Many years back, I worked with a very, very liberal technical writer named Robin, who found it hard to believe that almost every other house in America had a gun in it. She asked the next three people who walked by her cubicle. Two of the three were prepared to admit to owning a gun. Neither of the two admitted gun owners fit her prejudices anymore than I did.
I know that many of you are not happy about your name and status being spread all over the newspapers. I understand your feelings. I would not be happy about it either--but I also think that this isn't worth getting worked up about. If a burglar is relying on the published list of permit holders to figure out which houses to burglarize, in the hopes of finding a handgun, he is a burglar with poor prospects for the future.
A burglar could randomly break into homes and have a 1 in 4 chance of finding a handgun. Unlike the average handgun owner, who probably leaves the gun in the house (and not secured), permit holders are much more likely to take the handgun with them, making it unavailable for theft. Even more importantly, the last place a burglar wants to be is in a permit holder's home when he or she comes home--we have already had a few examples of the results, and the burglars are lucky if they end up in jail.
I agree that laws such as Ohio's, allowing journalists access to permit holder information, are a bad idea. I hope to see such laws repealed. I also think that being identified to friends and neighbors as a concealed handgun permit holder is a teaching opportunity--a chance to show others that the vicious stereotypes of gun owners are simply prejudice.
1 Ohio Revised Code § 2923.129(B)(2).
2 Connie Shultz, "We will reveal those who conceal," Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 12, 2004, available at http://www.cleveland.com/living/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/living/1073907003299210.xml, last accessed January 19, 2004.
3 "Permits issued to carry concealed firearms in Summit County," Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 29, 2004, available at http://www.cleveland.com/news/plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/news/109110424582620.xml, last accessed August 2, 2004.