Three months after the December massacre of 20 first-graders and six staff members at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the gun lobby not only is resisting more responsible gun laws, but also wants to curb the laws already on the books.
In North Carolina, and in some other states, there are pushes from gun-lobby allies to close the now-public records of gun permit holders. Some in the media who have published or posted these public documents have been hounded and threatened by gun rights advocates. In a twist on their usual talk about the protection afforded by gun ownership, the pro-gun groups say homes could be targets if its known which of those homes might have guns.
So they want a blackout on who owns a handgun or has a concealed carry permit. What a bad idea. The facts that the permits are required and that gun purchasers know the information will be public are deterrents to fraudulent applications. It also diminishes the likelihood that someone such as a convicted felon on the loose would try to get a permit, knowing he or she might be tracked down. And the openness of the records keeps the process honest.
Beyond those specific reasons, however, there is a principle of public access to records involved. This week, that principle is very much on the minds of those in the media and citizens interested in public records laws. This is Sunshine Week when those with a steadfast belief in open government celebrate it. And its to be celebrated even when its inconvenient for some individuals and elected officials. Openness is a cornerstone of democracy.
Those who have the permits, or those who simply believe they should be secret, contend that having a permit on the record makes them vulnerable to burglars and others who might do them harm. But by that logic, our entire society would operate in secret. Members of legislatures and Congress could argue that their public profiles put them at risk and thus they should not be accessible to the public.
Should courts close their doors to the public because information in trials might be embarrassing? Should merchants not be allowed to ask for identification when a customer is writing a check because the customer deserves privacy?
Our democracy is open, and thats healthy, even when it makes people who are subject to that openness uncomfortable. Once doors start to close, there will be no end to it.
And if the open records on gun permits are a deterrent for even one individual who is a threat to society, isnt that a worthy reason to keep such records open?
If ever there were a time to be talking about ways to protect individuals from gun violence, it is now.