Friday, July 2, 2010

Handguns and privacy

From the 05 July 2010 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

Based on the numerous columns that I’ve written about the Second Amendment and the natural right to self-defense it’s pretty obvious to the reader that I pack heat. I’m a firm believer in being prepared to protect myself and others from any threat, man or beast. A lot of people are. But, they don’t have columns in which to expound on that belief and most of them try to keep their feelings about handguns close to the vest. To those folks, possessing a firearm is their business and no one else’s.

Unfortunately, something transpired in June that trampled over their rights to both gun ownership and privacy, all in one fell swoop. A website, posted anonymously of course, came about at that featured a series of databases listing the names and addresses of all registered handgun owners in New York State. Following a public uproar - and no doubt a flurry of hate mail and legal threats – the website has since changed and is now a clearinghouse of information about various penal codes hosted by the Buffalo Criminal Law Center, a take-off of the University at Buffalo’s Law School. It is unknown to this writer as to whether the BCLC is the original host or the whospackingny URL is being redirected to the BCLC site.

When it was up and running, allowed the visitor to not only search a user-friendly database but it also permitted downloading of the complete data set in Excel format. So, even though the information is not readily accessible to the masses for the time being (who knows if the website will rear its ugly head again), it’s still out there someplace. I’ll guarantee there are thousands of people who saved the file to their hard drives, information that can be shared by email or a whospackingny copycat.

The lists can easily end up in the hands of the wrong people, causing serious harm. It is feared by many that violent criminals like drug pushers and gang members who are in turf wars and need to be equipped will use it to find a home that has handguns within it, observe that address, and break into it when the homeowners are gone, all in an effort to steal the weapons. The database makes it so simple to commit such an egregious act as it hand feeds prospects to thugs.

There’s also the media-and-left-induced stigma that comes with gun ownership that will only be exacerbated by the availability of records. We live in an era in which guns are foolishly feared rather than respected and many individuals nosy enough to peruse the list might overreact and turn on their neighbors, friends, and family, choosing not to go to a gun owner’s house or send their kids there for fear that the weapon makes that abode or the registered user a danger. Folks on the other side of the guns and privacy issue like the access to the data just for that reason.

When the website was live, the webmaster attempted to deflect responsibility for his or her actions by stating that the handgun registrations are public record. That’s a rather poor justification for sharing what was once though secret, but it does beg the question: Who’s more at fault, he who publishes such information on the web or the government entities which allow such information to be public record?

I’ll go with the latter. New York is one of only a few states in which gun ownership is considered fair game for prying eyes. The law needs to be changed to prevent its availability to the public. It can be done. It has been done. Case in point, even though taxpayers pay for some 4 million New Yorkers to be on Medicaid, we are not allowed to know who they are or where they live although the case could be made that such information should be public record as the state is taking from the rights of an individual (the right to property/happiness) to grant privilege to another. One should know how their public monies are being used. Gun ownership doesn’t fall into such a category. You don’t intrude on anyone’s rights by possessing a weapon. Despite what Albany may believe, gun ownership does not make you a threat to the common good.

That said, please take the time to call or write your Assemblyperson and Senator. Get them to push for legislation that would make your ownership of weapon secret, just as you thought it was and just as you know it should be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A few places to find this database:
Others have already made this available.