Tuesday, May 08, 2007


"Concealed" Carry Permits?

Did you know that something over 300,000 Tennessee residents are licensed to carry a concealed weapon?

Neither did I. But that's how big the Tennessee Department of Safety database is... and, thanks to a Nashville newspaper, we can now see a listing of all of them -- by name and community.

As seen today on Instapundit:

THE NASHVILLE TENNESSEAN has published a list of CCW permit holders.

SayUncle is contacting their advertisers to complain.


This isn't the first time this has happened. In March 2007, Christian Trejbal, writing for the Roanoke Times, published a list of concealed-carry weapons permits in Virginia. (The list was later taken down.)

And now, no doubt with that debacle in mind, the Nashville Tennessean has published a searchable database of Tennessee gun owners with valid CCW permits -- with no editorial-writer's name on it, apparently.
As SayUncle points out, this amounts to a "steal me" list. Anyone who wants to steal firearms from law-abiding citizens now knows where to look. Worse, we can look up who is not on the list -- and who therefore might make for a more tempting target.

Do I really need to explain why this is a singularly bad idea? The whole purpose of concealed-carry permits is for someone to be able to carry a concealed weapon. Perhaps you don't like the idea that your neighbor might carry a gun without telling you about it -- but that's your problem. If your state's laws permit your neighbor to do it, then she's obeying the law. If you want to try to change the law, go ahead -- but subverting a law because you don't like it is unacceptable.

(So what do you do if you really are afraid of guns, and feel that you need to know if your neighbor has them or not? Ask! I've never yet known a gun-owner to lie about it.)

On a purely practical level, concealed-carry means that a criminal doesn't know who is armed and who isn't. This raises the risk factor considerably -- for the criminals! If a criminal knows that a certain percentage of the population is likely to be armed, this means that a mugging carries with it a certain risk of being shot at (and at point-blank range); contrariwise, criminals need not fear armed citizens in so-called "gun free zones". (Are you listening, Virginia Tech?)

And, as has been pointed out repeatedly, having people licensed to carry-concealed makes the community safer, including the neighbors who want nothing to do with guns. Because the criminals don't know where the guns are, they are at risk from being shot at by anyone, and they will act accordingly. Once criminals have a good idea where the guns are, this advantage disappears.

Making such a list public, it seems to me, is the action of someone who fears his law-abiding gun-owning neighbors more than he fears armed criminals. And that's not only misplaced (and irrational) fear, it's also extremely immoral... because it penalizes people who are trying to obey the law (by going to the trouble to obtain a valid permit), while not penalizing law-breakers at all.

Oh, and a comment for the Tennessean: do you really want such a large constituency of potential readers as enemies? Armed enemies, I might add?

If Prof. Glenn's posting on the subject seems a bit terse, there's a good reason for it. I looked, and -- yep -- there he is: Glenn Harlan Reynolds, of Knoxville TN. I'm sure he did not appreciate being outed.

UPDATE: Well, that didn't take long. The list has been taken down.

Prof. Glenn has quite a few comments:

ANDREW SULLIVAN ASKS: "If gun rights are civil rights, why would anyone feel the need to hide the fact that they own one?"

I think the short answer is that gun rights are about security, and we'd rather keep the criminals guessing. In addition, doubt about who owns guns generates what economists call "positive externalities," meaning that if a substantial proportion of homeowners have guns, or if a nontrivial number of people out-and-about are carrying concealed guns, potential burglars or assailants have to allow for the possibility that a victim or someone in the neighborhood might be armed. That produces a deterrent effect that benefits even those who do not possess guns This is why, for example, we see fewer burglaries of occupied homes in the United States than in countries like Britain with strict gun controls -- breaking into an occupied home is dangerous. Meanwhile, on a more personal level, those who are armed would prefer to have the advantage of surprise. I should also note that there's a difference between owning guns (the "keep and bear" business) and carrying guns, which is what the whole CCW permit thing is about. That distinction is explained at some length here.

But I'll turn the question around: If abortion is a civil right, why would anyone object to having a newspaper publish a searchable database of people who've had one?

I'm not ashamed! But some people might worry about prejudice from the "unenlightened and unsophisticated."

I'm surprised that Andrew Sullivan, of all people, would make such an argument. It's easily extended to a subject near and dear to his heart, after all. Why would anyone object to a statewide list of homosexuals, complete with names and addresses? It's not something to hide, is it?

Answer: publicly revealing personal details about someone, which they had until then explicitly kept hidden, is in extremely poor taste, at best. Doing it en masse doesn't make it any better.

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