Outing Gun Owners (2013 Feb)

by Barry A. Liebling

Late last year in Newtown CT a crazed man with guns murdered 20 young children and 6 adults before killing himself. This horrible crime was front-page news for the entire nation, and pundits wasted no time in offering their advice on how to prevent suicidal maniacs from slaughtering innocents. There is a wide range of interpretations of this terrible event and what future actions ought to be taken. Two popular views stand out that are diametric about what should be done.

On one side are those who understand that individuals have a right to self defense. Any new policies must be crafted so they do not violate that right. For example, it is possible to increase security and have more armed, responsible adults in schools to deter and defend against a would-be killer. Similarly, there is merit in disarming convicted violent criminals and keeping weapons out of the hands of mentally deranged people.

On the other side are leftists who are unsympathetic to the concept of individual rights – including self defense. While they are frequently called “anti-gun” they are not so much opposed to the existence of guns as they are against private individuals possessing guns. When any crime occurs involving a firearm they reflexively call for new laws that restrict (really prevent) citizens from possessing weapons. Only the “wise government” or some “community” agency should have the power to decide who gets protected and how.

The editorial management of the Journal News, a publication in New York State not far from the Newtown massacre, is a good example of the “anti-gun” mentality. They obtained the names and addresses of citizens with handgun permits in their area – via Freedom of Information Law – and published an interactive online map. Anyone with access to the internet could see exactly who has a pistol license and where they live. The editors “outed” legal gun owners – where “outing” means both to reveal who has a permit and to inform “enlightened progressives” who should be ostracized from polite company.

Those who value the right to bear arms condemned the newspaper’s action. They pointed out that it put legitimate gun owners at risk because criminals would know which homes to burglarize to obtain firearms. Furthermore, it put citizens who do not have gun permits in danger because it suggested that they probably do not have weapons to protect themselves.

What can we learn by scrutinizing the behavior of the Journal News editors? Even without interviewing them it is possible to draw several conclusions.

The newspaper management probably did not intend to make local citizens the targets of hardened criminals. Instead they wanted to publicly shame individuals who had the bad taste of acquiring a pistol license. The editors envisioned that “foolish gun owners” would be embarrassed to face their “right-thinking progressive” neighbors. And “anti-gun” advocates would know whom to shun.

Notice that people with gun permits are generally not dangerous. They all passed a background check and are – in the aggregate – less menacing than gun owners without licenses.

Notice also, that if the newspaper editors were genuinely concerned with public safety and wanted to warn local residents of real danger they would have published a different article. They could have disclosed the names and addresses of violent criminals who reside in the community, or people who are known to be emotionally unstable. Of course, it did not occur to the editors to take this course.

Full disclosure – when I learn of a horrendous murder-suicide incident my initial gut reaction is fury against the killer. I am likely to repeat the grim platitude that the villain should have killed himself first before setting his sights on others. By contrast “anti-gun” zealots are in the habit of directing their anger at law abiding citizens who have guns and are not abusive – rather than at perpetrators. What does this reveal about the “anti-gun” mentality?

It is interesting that after the public backlash against the newspaper, Journal News management felt threatened and commissioned armed guards to protect their place of business. Many observers labeled this as monumentally hypocritical – people against firearms using guns to assure their own safety. But the editors probably believe they can justify their decision. In their world-view there is a problem if you protect yourself, but you can have someone else protect you. This is reminiscent of the famous talk show host who railed against gun ownership while she retained the services of a pistol-carrying bodyguard.

The Journal News episode is likely to have further consequences for the editors. They might be the recipient of “turn about is fair play.” The editors’ adversaries could uncover facts about them that they would prefer to keep private. You can imagine how tempting it will be for a legal gun owner to “out” the editors that “outed” him. Soon we may see what reciprocity looks like.

*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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