Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Guns, Pens, and S-words, Mightiness of:

In the wake of America’s most recent mass murder, one New York newspaper took it upon itself to create an online map of all the gun permits issued in Westchester and Rockland counties. Silliness ensued.

Firstly, some gun owners became rather upset, as they felt their privacy was being violated. I’m not quite sure why. The New York State Penal Code §400.01, Paragraph 5 specifically states

The name and address of any person to whom an application for any license has been granted shall be a public record.

So are they upset because the paper published public information, or because the information is public in the first place? If it’s the latter, why? If you don’t want your name and address to be a public record, get a shotgun or a rifle. New York State doesn’t require permits for those. Nobody forced you to get a pistol. (Or any gun.) Nobody forced me to become a lawyer, but you can look me up on the New York State Bar Association’s public lawyer directory. I could have become a professional chef, and you could have bought a shotgun. (Or no gun.)

Sidebar: I have to commend The Journal News for the way they carried out this map. Users can’t search for names or addresses or filter any of the entries. Users can’t interact at all with the database which the map implements. The only way to see all 44,000 names and addresses is to click all 44,000 dots. For the most part, gun owners are pretty well hidden within the noise. The obvious counterpoint is that the only folks who you don’t want to know you have a gun are your neighbors, who probably zoomed into your neighborhood and clicked on your house while I was typing this sentence.

why so serious

Secondly, why do you care if other folks know you have a gun? Isn’t the whole idea of owning a handgun self defense? If criminals can look up your house and find out that you have a permit for a handgun, are they not going to go somewhere else? Do you think burglars are motivated by the possibility of a shootout, or by the possibility of grabbing your laptop and running off into the night without being shot at? Gun owners are thusly saved the expense of buying ammunition and engaging in running/costly firefights with burglars. Bullets don’t grow on trees.

Thirdly, the State Senator representing Putnam County (the next county for which the paper plans to map gun permits) has referred to this map as casting a scarlet letter on gun owners.

Now, the actual scarlet letter was for adultery, which is forbidden by the Sixth Commandment, and also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9. Gun ownership is not really discussed in the Bible, and lots of people own lots of deadly machines. According to George Mason University, 133 Americans were killed by lawn mowers in 2006, but nobody’s ashamed to own a damned lawn mower. We’re not talking about publishing the names and addresses of folks with a permit to own embarrassing pornography.

So apparently, this whole kerfuffle has gotten so contentious that The Journal News has hired armed guards to protect its offices. Who’d have thought annoying 44,000 gun owners could make one fearful of violent reprisal?