Papers, Guns and Databases

Friday, March 20, 2009


Should gun ownership be a private matter? After a Memphis newspaper put a searchable database on its website of all people licensed to carry a hand gun in Tennessee, the NRA went ballistic. The paper’s editor Chris Peck says the database is a legal, not to mention profitable, part of its online operation.

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Comments [13]

Daniel from Maine

The "Commercial Appeal" Data Center web page is pretty fascinating - it includes public records, felony convictions, health inspections, census data and so on and so forth. They've done an excellent job of making a wide range of information available and accessible.

Apr. 01 2009 02:20 PM
David from Rhode Island

Matt W. - What a strange comparison. How does protecting a source, which serves to encourage people that otherwise would fear retribution to come forward, possible equate to having a CC permit? Can't wait to hear this one.

Mar. 31 2009 08:28 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

I say, publish or perish!

Mar. 26 2009 07:39 AM
Matt W. from Arlington, Virginia

Concealed Carry permits should be just as public as media sources protected under a shield law.

Mar. 25 2009 07:43 PM
David from Rhode Island

One can certainly disagree with how they went about addressing this issue, as Mr. Caxton has quite ably pointed out. But to say "Who told the newspaper that it was their responsibility to ensure that those with CC permits are 'responsible' gun owners?" is bizarre. One of the most basic tenets of being a newspaper in this country is supposed to be to inform the public and bring to light situations that are potentially dangerous and/or detrimental to society, and felons being issued CC permits certainly qualifies. Like Mr. Caxton, I think they should have exposed that only, printing the names of the supposed offenders IF they were convinced after careful research they had the story right, and it wasn't something stupid like identical names or even names and addresses, as in the case of a father and a Jr.

Mar. 23 2009 07:53 PM
David from Rhode Island

P Wheeler - your premise makes no sense to me. Of course the media in general, and newspapers in particular, have always (in this country) been seen as having hte responsibility to be a watchdog for the public regarding our government. One of those watchdog functions is to make sure they are simply not incompetent. Addressing the topic of who ensures that those with CC permits are "responsible" you say: "That responsibility belongs to the individual. The State uses its delegated authority to set standards for CC permits. If the individual meets those standards, they are then responsible in the eyes of the State." That presumes that the state never makes mistakes, that there is no corruption, etc. In what civics class did you learn that we just take it for granted that the government knows what they are doing?

Mar. 23 2009 07:44 PM
Will Caxton from Evanston, Illinois

(Part 3)
Later, Mr Peck said, "We really hadn't done a lot of reporting using the database until this all blew up, and what we discovered was there were more than 600 people in the state of Tennessee who had felony convictions or other violent criminal acts who had a permit. And the point we wanted to make was that's the reason the records need to be open, is that people who are carrying, have permits to carry, need to be responsible gun owners, and we agree with the NRA on that point. And that really is the crux of the issue."

Again the reasoning is curious. Tennessee state law prohibits issuing concealed-carry permits to anyone who has had a felony conviction or is under an order of protection.[2] It seems that the Commercial Appeal has found that the concealed-carry database is wrong, or whatever they're using to find felony convictions is wrong, or concealed-carry permits
have been issued erroneously. It's also possible that felons are illegally in possession of firearms. I am not a professional journalist, but I can imagine at least two reasonable responses to this discovery: bring the evidence to the attention of law-enforcement organizations, or write a newspaper article or editorial pointing out the problems. For some unspecified reason, Mr Peck instead chose to make a database (which may be flawed) available to the public, apparently in hope that random individuals would somehow also find the flaws and voluntarily do something about the problem -- something Mr Peck seems to be unwilling or unable to do. This is baffling, yet On the Media never questioned it.
The database clearly wouldn't have helped in the specific instance mentioned, of two drivers who got into an altercation. Someone out driving wouldn't have an opportunity to check the database and wouldn't know the name of the other driver in order to search for it.


Mar. 23 2009 05:54 PM
Will Caxton from Evanston, Illinois

(Part 2)
Assumption 3 is also questionable. Granted, guns can be dangerous. On the other hand, they're by no means the only or greatest danger to children. Here are the leading causes of death (not injuries) among US children 14 and under, in calendar year 2005[1]:

Motor Vehicle Traffic 1812

Drowning ............. 766

Fire/burn ............ 475

Firearm .............. 298

Suffocation .......... 282

Suicide .............. 270

Poisoning ............ 99

Fall ................. 66

Given the danger from drowning, should newspapers provide databases of people with swimming pools? Some parents may not want their children to have access to prescription drugs, like Viagra, Valium, and Oxycontin. Should we have databases of prescriptions? What about pornography? Databases of everyone who has a subscription to Playboy, or who has rented or bought pornographic movies? Would these be less useful or less appropriate than a database of concealed-carry permit holders?


Mar. 23 2009 05:53 PM
Will Caxton from Evanston, Illinois

(Part 1)
Some of Mr Peck's claims are not supported by evidence or reason. For example, he says being able to check whether a particular person has a concealed-carry permit is useful to the public because "They might have a kid who was thinking about going overnight for a sleep-over, and a parent might say, 'Gee, I wonder if there's a gun in the house?'" One problem with this reasoning is that the database can be searched not only for a specific name, but will return responses to general queries, such as all concealed-carry permit holders in Memphis -- which would be unnecessary to satisfy Mr Peck's hypothetical.
The hypothetical situation also seems to assume that (1) everyone who has "a gun in the house" has a concealed-carry permit; (2) that everyone who has a concealed-carry permit has a gun in the house; and (3) that knowing whether someone has a gun in the house is both useful and appropriate information. None of these assumptions is well-supported.

Assumption 1 is clearly flawed: There must be millions of people in Tennessee who own guns for hunting, self-defense, or sport but don't carry concealed weapons in public and therefore don't need and don't have concealed-carry permits. Worse, there are people who are legally prohibited from possessing firearms but who have them anyway. Thus, a list of concealed-carry permit holders is a poor proxy for firearms in the home. In any case, using a database for this purpose seems roundabout: if people are concerned about firearms, is there some reason
they can't just ask? "I don't want my children around guns. Do you have any guns in your house?" Has American society become so insular that people feel compelled to go to such lengths just to avoid communicating with each other?

Mar. 23 2009 05:52 PM
Mark Phillips from WNYC

Mike H,

Your comments were not manually taken down: they were automatically removed by the Spam filter (perhaps because of offensive language or maybe because the personal information you posted triggered the Spam filter).

We urge you to take a look at our comment guidelines:

One of the comment guidelines is please keep it civil, which includes our rule that "personal attacks will not be tolerated." For that reason, we urge you to re-post your comments with any criticism of the story, Mr. Peck's *actions* or *editorial decisions*, without personally attacking the guest or the hosts of the show.

Mark Phillips
On the Media

Mar. 23 2009 12:07 PM
Michael Robinson from Baltimore

I would like to send some money to the newspaper spokesperson to offset the campaign carried on by the NRA about the gunholders license list in Tennesee

Mar. 22 2009 02:31 PM
P. wheeler

He sounds very sincere. However there are several problems and inconsistencies. First, Who told the newspaper that it was their responsibility to ensure that those with CC permits are 'responsible' gun owners?
That responsibility belongs to the individual. The State uses its delegated authority to set standards for CC permits. If the individual meets those standards, they are then responsible in the eyes of the State. Secondly, the canard of 'pro 1st amendment' and 'balance of access of these records and accountability in government' is disturbing. Note the media's different standards in covering the privacy rights of Joe the plummer and Obama's Aunt. What would be the Media's response to a Republican Presidential Candidate who refused to produce the public record of his birth certificate? How would they balance the tension between 'access to those records' and 'accountability in government?' How does the public's right to know about the qualifications of a public servant stack up against the public's right to know about a private citizen? In my opinion, file this under 'soft-sell propaganda.

Mar. 21 2009 09:30 PM
Mike H from Joliet Il

Moderating comments and not allowing any critical commentary about the subject, and from a publicly funded institution, how nice of you all.

Mar. 21 2009 12:04 PM

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