March 30, 2008

The Tennessee legislature is considering a bill that would seal the records of those who have a license to carry a gun; and well they should.

The bill has bipartisan sponsorship from Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and state Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect. Twenty-seven states already keep this type of information secret. There’s absolutely no justification for anyone knowing who has a permit and, just as important, who does not.

“Our form of government is based on openness,” Frank Gibson, the director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government told The Tennessean. “They keep sealing all these records. If this legislation passes, there will be no way to know if someone in your neighborhood has a special permit (to carry a handgun) or not.” That’s right, Frank. And there’s no way of knowing what your neighbors paid in taxes, but I don’t hear you pushing to make that public.

Don’t misunderstand. I am a member of the media. I appreciate and advocate openness in government, but this is not an open-government issue. It’s a privacy issue. Publishing the names and addresses of gun permit holders does nothing to make government more transparent. It only pries into the lives of private citizens. Think about it for a moment. What purpose does it really serve to make that information public? It’s merely grist for nosy neighbors to grind into salacious gossip and swap over backyard fences. How many news organizations bother to print the names and addresses of people in Tennessee who have a license to fly? That’s open to the public, too. Oh, but what purpose would that serve? That’s exactly my point.

I think it’s important to get at the motivation news organizations have for printing carry permit records in the first place. Is the intent to frighten? Is the intent to chastise or shame? I can’t think of any reason why anyone would need to know. Could it be because these news organizations think these people are dangerous? Now, you’re getting closer to the truth.

Here are some facts you need to consider before we collectively freak out over private citizens packing heat. For full disclosure, I have a carry permit. I’ve had one for years. I went through the safety course. I went through the fingerprinting and the background check. And I’m proud to say that permit holders like me, who have gone to all that trouble, are far less likely to use our weapons in the commission of a crime than even the police. That’s right. Of course, that’s not meant to disparage police officers. It’s just a fact. Permit holders very rarely use their weapons to commit crimes.

Here’s something else you might not know: Did you know that the majority of multiple-victim public murders, like school shootings, happen in states without carry-permit laws?

Also, according to the National Crime Victimization Surveys, people who use guns to defend themselves are less likely to be attacked or injured than people who use other methods of protection or don’t defend themselves at all. In fact, handguns are used for protection against criminals in America nearly 2 million times per year. That’s up to five times more often than guns are used to commit crimes and up to 128 times the number of murders.

You see, this fear of citizens arming themselves is unfounded. It’s scarier to think of an unarmed citizenry. This fascination we have with who has a gun-carry permit serves no public interest.

It’s no more useful than knowing what people are ordering on pay-per-view or what books people are checking out at the library. It’s not public information, it’s voyeurism and it’s time our lawmakers put a stop to it.

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