February 22, 2013

M.D. Harmon: Shielding those with concealed firearms also benefits unarmed

I've wondered for years when a Maine paper was going to request the names and addresses of people who have permits to carry concealed firearms, and it took longer than I thought it might.

But now a paper has sought permit holders' full information, with the outcome proceeding in a way that it might not have expected.

I have written often, over a period of decades, on the importance of keeping government records open, but the main reason for that is to see what government is doing. After all, government works for us, not the other way around.

However, there's room for an exception when releasing personal data in government hands can harm private citizens.

And publishing the names and addresses of permit holders, while legal until just this week, might do irreparable harm, as it serves no public purpose and exposes ordinary people to criminal acts (more on that in a bit).

So I wasn't going to raise a possibility that, if acted on, could have put law-abiding Mainers in danger.

We know publication is hazardous because a paper in southern New York recently published a list of handgun permit holders in its circulation area.

The rationale was familiar: It's somehow in the "public interest" that everybody knows who has permits to carry concealed firearms.

But that's false. Mainers with concealed firearms permits, about 3 percent of the population, create a far wider sphere of protection for everyone that depends on anonymity.

That's because criminals inclined to violent acts should never know which citizens in their vicinity may be armed, and therefore have to assume that some always are.

It is sometimes alleged that people legally carrying concealed weapons are a threat to public safety, but the percentage of permit holders who committed gun crimes in states that have conducted surveys on the issue averages less than a tenth of 1 percent.

Meanwhile, one federal study showed firearms are used more than 100,000 times a year to prevent criminal actions, most often without a shot being fired, while other surveys put defensive gun uses at 10 to 20 times that number.

In a related matter, the only real function of so-called "gun-free zones" is to tell potential criminals that no law-abiding person there can offer any effective resistance. While such designations may give naive individuals illusions of safety, such areas are really free-fire zones for potentially violent offenders, as we have seen many times in the recent past.

One of the largest "gun-free zones" in America is the city of Chicago, which prohibits handguns but had almost 500 handgun-related murders last year, and is on track this year to exceed that number.

And though gun-control zealots say those illegally possessed firearms came from outside the city, they don't explain why the rate of gun crime in those other places is so much lower than Chicago's.

If guns themselves cause crime, why don't they cause it where they were acquired? Instead, it looks like Chicago is a hotbed of crime (one would have to ask its political leaders why that is), and criminals cause it -- without any fear of resistance from law-abiding citizens, by the way.

Why is publishing names hazardous? After the New York paper's story and map, people on the list had their firearms stolen; abused women who had moved and acquired permits for protection expressed great distress that their abusers now knew their new addresses; and people with no permits were identified as potentially easy targets for housebreakers.

The paper's request for similar information from an adjacent county was rebuffed, and on Jan. 18, a new state law that otherwise restricted firearms ownership allowed N.Y. permit holders to request confidentiality.

(Continued on page 2)

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