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Public info vs. private guns

When the General Assembly was debating a concealed-weapons law in 1995, opponents were afraid the state would become like the wild West, with everyday disagreements leading to gunfire. It had been against the law to carry a concealed weapon in North Carolina since Reconstruction. No one knew what such a change would bring.
To address those concerns, the concealed carry law included a provision making the permits a matter of public record. The names and addresses of gun owners were not posted on a bulletin board for all to see, but if you were concerned about a threatening person, for example, you could call the Sheriff’s Office and find out if that person had a concealed carry permit. That was more than 27 years ago.
Now the openness of those records is being questioned. A bill in the state House that would allow concealed handguns to be carried in restaurants that serve alcohol and in some bars includes a provision that would remove the statewide database from public record. Only law enforcement would have access to the database. Rowan County commissioners will consider a resolution of support on Monday.
Several states are rethinking access to permit information following a New York newspaper’s publication of gun permit holders’ names and addresses with an interactive map. The paper did this in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre; its rationale was that parents would want to know who in their community had guns. But outraged gun owners perceived the move as an attempt to single out and demonize them.
The incident was not completely isolated. WRAL TV in Raleigh, the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., the Roanoke Times in Virginia and the Gawker website in New York have all published information identifying gun owners and suffered considerable backlash.
Time changes things. Concealed weapons are no longer a rarity in the state. About 3 percent of the state’s residents have a concealed weapon permit. At the same time, databases and the Internet enable people to spread information much more widely than probably was imagined in 1995. Using the databases for analysis has some merit. Publicizing gun owners’ names and addresses en mass invites trouble and tarnishes the law’s intent.
This is just one of several bills filed this session concerning guns, and more could be on the way. They need more study than a kneejerk reaction, especially when a bill combines such disparate issues as access to records and allowing concealed weapons in bars. The passion for gun owners’ rights runs high; so does the need for prudent laws.

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