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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Is that a poll, or are you just happy to see me?

A newspaper uses its First Amendment rights to sneer at the 2nd Amendment and gets the sharp criticism it deserves:

The Journal News in White Plains, N.Y., used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information on registered handgun owners in the area. Many owners and other critics are outraged that criminals now know where the guns are – and aren't.

[. . .]

This is CRAZY!!” one reader wrote on the newspaper’s website. “Why in the world would you post every licensed gun owner information?? What do you hope to accomplish by doing this. This is the type of thing you do for sex offenders not law abiding gun owners. What next? Should I hang a flag outside my house that says I own a gun? I am canceling my subscription with your paper today!!!”

I could have told them that would be the reaction they'd get. In 2003, our newspaper did a package of stories on the people in Allen County with permits to carry guns. During the course of the research, we spent $25 for the database that had every single name on it. Then an internal debate began over whether we should put the database online in searchable form. As a part of that debate, I made the issue one of our daily poll questions, which at the time were drawing 100 to 200 responses a week. We got nearly 3,000 responses from all over the country, and the overwhelming answer (95 to 5 percent) was no, or, to be more precise, "Hell, no!"

Publishing such a list is seen as a public service by newspapers, but it's really more of a political statement full of moral posturing. As the Journal News reader quoted above implies, it suggests that gun owners are somehow a shameful lot who should be exposed to public vilification. It also suggests that they're somehow the problem, that registered gun owners are dangerous people whose location we need to know so we can sensibly stay away from them.

We ended up not putting the database online. You can say we were wisely attending to the desires of our readers if you like, or call us cowards if you want to. I think we used the poll results as one part of the discussion and came to a sensible decision.