By Corey Friedman
Some North Carolina lawmakers think the names of concealed handgun permit and gun purchase permit holders should be a state secret.
State Sen. Buck Newton is sponsoring a bill to exclude gun permits from the North Carolina Public Records Act. Senate Bill 28 appears to be little more than a kneejerk reaction to the controversy over a New York newspaper’s decision to publish gun permit-holders’ names and addresses.
“I don’t see how this is in any way, shape or form information that the public should have,” Newton said.
A national debate on gun-owner privacy erupted in December after the Journal News in Westchester, N.Y., posted an interactive online map of concealed handgun permit holders that displayed gun owners’ names and addresses. Gun-rights advocates fired back, proposing new laws that they said would safeguard permit-holders’ privacy.
The North Carolina bill’s backers say handgun permits should not be public because published lists could help thieves target the gun owners. It’s a specious argument made on purely theoretical grounds, as neither lawmakers nor the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association could provide a single example of gun permit information contributing to a crime.
“There’s no case that suggests this is needed because none has ever happened,” said Beth Grace, executive director of the North Carolina Press Association. “There is absolutely no precipitating incident other than they’re mad at the newspaper and that’s why they’re doing it here.”
Some gun owners may fear that having their names and addresses publicly available coupled with information on the handgun permits they’ve obtained could make them vulnerable. But that fear isn’t rooted in any real danger.
Few North Carolina newspapers and television stations would see fit to publish complete lists of every local handgun owner. We don’t think gun thieves are likely to call their local sheriff’s office and request these public records themselves. We also think few criminals would target residents who they know have guns for home defense.
There’s no evidence to suggest that records of residents’personal property lead to that property being compromised. If there were, lawmakers would have long ago tried to seal the public deed transfers and land purchases that tell you who bought which home and for how much.
A groundless fear of hypothetical crime is a poor justification for drafting a law. We think legislators are exploiting gun owners’ anxiety for political gain. There may be other reasons they want to make gun permits private, but inciting panic about throngs of thieves combing public records in search of their next victim is irresponsible, and it only serves to weaken their argument.
Handgun permits aren’t open for public inspection so that gun owners will be subject to undue scrutiny. These records are open so the public and press can hold accountable the county sheriffs who issue them.
With a little patience and a lot of research, any Wilson County resident can check to see that those receiving concealed handgun permits meet the legal requirements and have not been convicted of violent crimes.
While we don’t foresee The Wilson Times publishing a list of all gun permit-holders, we might rely on those public permits to see whether a criminal suspect has been licensed to carry concealed. That option will disappear if lawmakers pass SB 28.
As President Barack Obama presses for new gun control laws that would ban the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines —proposals we’ve argued against in this space — it’s easy to see why gun owners may feel under attack. But there’s no conflict between a citizen’s Second Amendment right to own a gun and the public’s right under North Carolina law to review records of concealed-carry permits.
[Note: This post originally appeared in The Wilson Times.]
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