One of the neat things about the Constitution is its durability and steadfastness. You don’t look at the Bill of Right and decide that one is more important than the other. States can’t pick and choose parts of it they want to follow or ignore, even though they occasionally do. When there is conflict, well, that’s what the U.S. Supreme Court is for.
That was my thinking when I read about the hubbub caused by the posting on WRAL’s site of a search form to find people with conceal-carry handgun permits. The permits are public records, and, like marriage licenses, divorces, birth certificates, criminal records and land transfers, they are available to anyone who wants to see them.
Of all of those public records, which are the most private? The birth of a child? A failed marriage? Nope. Gun ownership. At least it is based on the uproar about making the records easy to find. There’s something about guns that gets people going. (Thank you, NRA.)
The WRAL action making concealed-carry permits easy to search has caused some to criticize the TV station, saying the action is an invasion of privacy and could endanger the lives of lawful, gun-owning citizens. I haven’t seen any evidence that such availability of public records endangers lives, but I suspect it is possible that lives are endangered whenever at least one party has access to a handgun.
One blogger — anonymous, of course — personalized it with a blog post titled “First Blood,” that calls out Mark Binker, the writer of the news story on the growth of concealed-carry permits. I know Mark Binker. He used to work for me. I doubt he is bothered one way or the other by any backwash in the publication of the search tool.
I won’t weigh in on WRAL’s motivations. As a First Amendment advocate, I think public records means records are public. They should be easy to get to. If someone wants to make them searchable, that’s the way of the world these days. Why, there are tabloids that print the names and photos of everyone who has been arrested. That’s certainly an invasion, too. It may not be nice, but it’s legal.
It is ironic, though, that staunch defenders of the Second Amendment have trouble defending the First Amendment.
Update: Another site — I’m not going to link to it — writes a bio of Binker culled from information in the public domain and encourages its readers to contact him politely and let him know their disappointment that the station published the search tool. It’s a fascinating ethical question that I’m sure doesn’t occur to the site’s writer — again anonymous.
You object to putting public information out in the public. You think it is wrong and dangerous. As a result, you do the exact same thing and go a step further by encouraging people to take action by contacting someone?