It sounded like a good idea at the time.
But in trying to convey information of social interest using public records, the Bangor Daily News has done a disservice to those advocating the worthy ideals of gun violence prevention and free access to government records.
It all stems from the Freedom of Access Act request the newspaper filed with police organizations, asking to inspect and copy the names, addresses and birthdates of Maine’s concealed weapons permit holders.
The paper pulled its request Friday in the face of a firestorm of complaint from legislative Republicans and the gun lobby.
By nixing its valid request virtually at gunpoint, the newspaper handed more ammunition to gun-rights zealots who famously think oversight by government — and its close cousin, the liberal media — amounts to a tyrannical invasion of privacy.
Gun owners and their advocates in the Legislature already had a bill in place to make gun permit information private. Regrettably, that now seems poised to advance. What’s worse: Gun permit secrecy legislation is being expedited on an “emergency” basis. (Imagine a bill protecting children from gun violence getting that kind of priority).
There should be no debate that this data remain public. Americans deserve to know whether a person who has made personal threats or is mentally unstable possesses a deadly weapon that could harm them.
For example, it might have been nice to know more about the weapons owned by Christopher Dorner or Jimmy Lee Dykes — two men who presented a clear and present public danger by their gun ownership — prior to their deadly acts.
But concerns that gun permit data can go awry in the hands of the media have an unfortunate shred of validity. A similar situation occurred last month in New York, where a newspaper collected the data then printed a map of where gun owners lived.
What purpose did it serve? No one could say, but it started a move to restrict access to such data.
The Bangor Daily News said it wasn’t going to publish the information — and we believe them, knowing their reputation for fairness, professionalism and diligence.
But by imprudently casting a huge net and not publicly detailing the purpose of its request — the lesson of the missteps in New York — and by not sticking to its guns once it had made its legal request, the newspaper unwittingly strengthened the hand of the paranoid gun lobby and those who favor secrecy in government. What remains is a perfect illustration of how the gun lobby intimidates.
We need more transparency and sunshine in government, not less. Gun permits should be no more protected than any other government-issued ID, such as driver’s licenses or liquor permits.
Gun owners have to stop making themselves bigger victims than those thousands of innocent Americans killed by firearms.
Dozens of innocent Americans are being gunned down on our streets daily, and the question of who owns guns — and who should not — is a legitimate public safety issue.
Collecting the names and addresses of gun owners — in and of itself — does not mean people will lay siege to the homes of gun owners, impound their weapons and hustle them off to a gulag.
It’s a claim typical of the irrational gun lobby.
But it’s a claim that just became a lot harder to debunk, thanks to the misfire at the Bangor Daily News.