By F. Paul Valone
July 31, 2012
“Hi, Jimbo. Good weekend? Staff meeting at ten. Hey, what’s this I read in the newspaper about you buying a gun? You’re not gonna ‘go postal’ on us, are you?”
Newspapers once printed lists of handgun permit applicants, who were sometimes treated as pariahs. Fortunately, as populations grew the practice faded.
Now the media offers fresh fear-mongering: A search engine of North Carolina concealed handgun permit-holders by partial address. Run for your life! Your neighbor has guns!
For no journalistic reason yet named, WRAL reporter Mark Binker published it amid an innocuous piece on concealed carry applications. WRAL General Manager Steve Hammel insists street numbers aren’t given, only street names. Under questioning, however, he admitted that for twenty-four hours, it revealed full addresses. It still reveals apartment numbers and, on streets with few houses, helps identify gun owners.
Why does anyone even need this information? The only people subjected to similar treatment are sex offenders, to protect against predation. Does WRAL consider permit-holders dangerous?
Grass Roots North Carolina didn’t want this battle, but scores of emails from outraged members – some with satellite photos showing theirs’ as the sole houses on roads identified – convinced us to act.
When contacted, Hammel insisted WRAL only divulged public information, ignoring that such data is otherwise available only by request from law enforcement officials, not by address-searchable Internet database. Moreover, Binker was the second reporter to recently abuse concealed handgun permit records. Although WRAL didn’t quite release full addresses, the next media outlet probably would.
So when negotiations failed, GRNC decided to demonstrate that unlike decades past, when media could “out” gun owners with impunity, thanks to the Internet, nobody monopolizes information. We had supporters tell WRAL advertisers to withdraw ads. The first target, an auto dealer, complied. Then we linked Internet information about the Binkers – all public information, most published by Binker himself. Like WRAL, we didn’t publish his full address even though, unlike the permit-holder list, it’s available on the Internet. Knowing people were upset, we took precautions, admonishing them to treat WRAL representatives civilly.
Regarding “poor Mark Binker,” when 399,2681 citizens applied for concealed handgun permits, most didn’t consider their personal information game for journalistic fishing expeditions. Binker, by contrast, made willful actions for which he should have anticipated consequences.
Judging by media squealing, our warning shot found its mark. Alarmed journalists even sputtered that gun rights activists should be proud to be “outted.” Ignoring, momentarily, that domestic violence victims getting permits to protect against abusers2, for example, are not “gun rights activists,” I don’t discuss my guns for the same reason I carry concealed: Tactical advantage. If attacked, I don’t want the perp to know I’m armed until his knowledge is moot.
To analyze permits, media databases should be searchable only by five-digit zip code. GRNC now calls on Hammel to serve viewers by changing WRAL’s database to that format.
Gun owners support GRNC. Since the alert I’ve received eight negative comments and signed up fifty-nine new members. Only strong action could convince reporters that camouflaging misbehavior behind public information carries a penalty, and that thanks to the Internet, we all live in “glass houses.”
1. North Carolina Concealed Handgun Permit Statistics by County, 12/1/1995 thru 6/30/2011, http://www.ncdoj.gov/CHPStats.aspx
2. Drafted and passed by Grass Roots North Carolina in 2005, House Bill 1311, the “Domestic Violence Victims Empowerment Act,” requires courts to advise victims who apply for “50B” protective orders of their right to apply for concealed handgun permits. Most certainly, these victims would not be “proud” to have their information revealed, especially to the abuser against whom they just filed a restraining order.