On the gun beat | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

On the gun beat

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 6:00 PM

Channel 4 tells me that they've talked to Rep. Randy Stewart of Kirby, who is introducing legislation to exempt the list of concealed weapon permit holders from the Freedom of Information Act.

This follows from my decision last week to obtain the list from the State Police and provide a link to it on this website. Little fuss followed until several days later, when gun groups began raising a din about it.

I've written about this here  and there and I spoke on KARN about it this morning, but to recapitulate:

I think the public information is both interesting and important for accountability. I don't follow the argument that it's any more dangerous than the daily newspaper's decision to put people's voting records, with street addresses, etc., on-line. Guns are ubiquitous. Most homes have them, I'd guess, far more certainly than the 55,000 or so with concealed carry permits.

I decided to remove the link because of concerns expressed about use of street addresses, also part of the public record. The argument was that this could compromise people who want their whereabouts unknown. The number in that category is small. It's also true that the ways of finding people are many, from voter records, to car tax records to property tax records, not to mention the usual web of shared acquaintances that make disappearance a near impossibility.

Still, in deference to that concern, I removed the list. I also was motivated by the bother of harassing phone calls at all hours of the night, from the obscene to the threatening, that began last Friday and have continued to escalate. I've had three threats -- one by phone suggesting my car had been fixed with a bomb and two by e-mail ("You won't see it coming," said one, more or less) -- sufficiently serious to pass to police. They will be checking my phone callers. Advertising boycotts are underway. Lawsuits, on what ground I can't imagine, are said to be in progress.

I'll say this about the legislation. There's a reason that names of those who enjoy the significant privilege of carrying a concealed weapon in public should be available for inspection.

For one, the lists are not infallible. The Memphis newspaper found nine felons in Shelby County on the list there. The list in Arkansas is not routinely rechecked for new felonies by permit holders. They happen.

If the legislature thinks specific address information should be redacted, that's a separate question. But the names of people allowed to go about in public with concealed weapons should not be a state secret, not given the fairly low bar for qualification. I doubt that  my point of view will get much hearing in the coming legislative debate, but let it be noted.

To date, despite the fears of potential harm to permit holders by a temporary posting of the information (information that many in the gun lobby avidly recirculated even as they decried it -- several called first to criticize and then to ask where they could see it),  the only criminal acts I'm aware of have been directed at me. More troubling in a way are those who've said, "You deserved it."

When people believe that disagreement with a lawful act justifies violence, you have to think that a little stronger psychological screening might be in order for carry permits. 

I've been told, too, that some licensed gun instructors have been encouraging their former students to retaliate in various ways. These have included threatening mail to my family. Note: Threats by a permit holder are grounds for loss of the privilege.  If the law means anything.

I believe, and I hope I'm right, that the angry reactions represent a small minority of permit holders. But it's a very noisy minority, to be sure.

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