Sorry for the extended holiday break. Lot’s going on in my life and lots to announce coming up. In the mean time, here is an article on guns and privacy.
After the recent Newton school shooting, in which the shooter allegedly used his mother’s licensed and permitted firearm, a debate has raged about the privacy rights of gun owners. A newspaper in Massachusetts published a list of licensed firearms owners in the area culled from public records. After a visceral outcry from the public, lawmakers have proposed bills to limit the free speech of newspapers to publish information about gun owners. Notice how I framed the debate as one of the first amendment versus the privacy rights of the second amendment. I’m not the only one who noticed it
When City Paper asked McDonogh if the bill intended to “limit the First Amendment in order to protect the Second,” he responded: “That’s a good way to put it.”
This is hardly a new debate. If fact this is something I wrote about in a white paper for the Florida First Amendment Foundation back in 2007. That white paper discussed the seeming tension between public records and privacy. My home state of Florida even has a law prohibiting the creation or keeping of a list of owners of firearms, though with copious and quite reasonable exceptions. One of those exceptions is for the state’s licensing of concealed weapons permit holders, currently over a million licensees in Florida. Though this list is exempt from the public records is still doesn’t protect against the ultimate privacy harm upon which the Second Amendment rests, namely the confiscation of firearms by the government in times of civil unrest.
In states without such exemptions, additional privacy harms are prevalent. The concern is that once released, this information about gun ownership can be used for nefarious purposes: criminals can target houses with guns (in an effort to steal them) or they can target houses without guns (to avoid armed homeowners). Part of the benefit of a concealed carry is the benefit of surprise, criminals don’t know who is carrying a weapon and where they are. Publicizing this information defeats some of the tactical advantage of concealing the weapon.
So how do we sustain the arguably legitimate interest of government to restrict gun usages (possession / concealed carrying, etc) to those legally eligible yet maintain the privacy of the gun users not only from the general public but from the government that licenses them. While the first step must be to analyze the entire ecosystem. Fundamentally, if only a small percentage of people are excluded from the eligible pool (and potentially aren’t going to follow the rules anyway), would it make more sense to identify those ineligible people rather than spotlight the eligible majority. Assuming such an option is not politically viable, then a smarter system would be to decentralize the license. In Florida, concealed carry permit holders must carry their license on their persons. F.S. 790.06 (1) This provision provides part of the solution. If the process for issuing the license can be validated and the license renewed probably more frequently than it is today, then the necessity of keeping a centralized list of licensees becomes moot. Failure to carry the license at the time of carrying a concealed weapon is a crime and the authorization can be refreshed every time the license is renewed.