Are American gun owners entitled to privacy or should the entire community know who they are, where they live and if they are licensed to carry?
It’s a lightning rod subject that is now the focus of legislation in Washington State, but it is a controversy that has raged across the country over the years when newspapers have published the names of gun owners, and sometimes the communities in which they live. Things hit a fever pitch five years ago when the Journal News, a suburban newspaper in New York, took things a bit farther by publishing the names and addresses of gun owners in Westchester and Rockland counties.
Reaction from gun owners was swift and alarming to the newspaper staff, whose own names and addresses were posted online, according to the New York Times.
Turnabout, as they say, is fair play, and payback can be uncomfortable. However, some of what reportedly happened included threats, which crosses the line.
Three months ago, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, an anti-gun liberal Democrat who has been pushing for a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” began conducting a review to determine if private information about people who hold state concealed pistol licenses might be subject to public disclosure.
Conservative Firing Line contacted the state Department of Licensing and learned that this review was based on a request from DOL to Ferguson due to a February 2016 inquiry by a state prison inmate relative to a legal action. The unidentified inmate’s request to access his own information was denied so he filed a legal action in Thurston County Superior Court.
That prompted DOL to study the state statute on CPL privacy and the agency discovered that the law “didn’t specifically mention the actual CPL, only the CPL application,” a spokesperson said via email. The inmate got the information he wanted and dropped the complaint, but DOL asked for a formal opinion from Ferguson to clarify whether CPL information is disclosable under current law.
The situation became public, and social media went wild with some interesting theories, so Democrat State Sen. Dean Takko filed Senate Bill 6173 and Republican State Rep. Jim Walsh sponsored a companion bill, HB 2329. The measures will strengthen and clarify the law and protect the identities of CPL holders.
Last October, the publication Parallax noted in a story about gun owner privacy that, “The National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups argue that such a list would invade gun owners’ privacy and potentially even lead to mass seizure of legally purchased weapons. The NRA also resisted efforts by former President Barack Obama to create new background checks for gun purchases, suggesting incorrectly that they would lead to a database of gun owners.”
But Parallax added an interesting tidbit.
“Many traditional privacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have steered clear of any debate over gun ownership privacy,” the story said. “It’s unclear whether that’s because of the politics of gun ownership, the effectiveness of the NRA in repelling efforts to create a gun registry, or the general lack of the idea to gain traction. The ACLU declined to comment.”
Many in the firearms community have complained that the ACLU overlooks the Second Amendment as part of the Bill of Rights.
Most gun owners are private persons. That is, they are not public figures subject to community scrutiny. The people in Westchester and Rockland counties were offended and worried that having their addresses identified could lead to burglaries and other troubles.
Many anti-gunners want to identify gun owners in their communities. The Washington legislation may provide a solution to this dilemma.