Our impoverished national conversation on guns appears to have a new casualty: public information.
The latest victim is the Bangor Daily News in Bangor, Me., whose request for the names of concealed gun permit holders – a public record in Maine – unleashed a firestorm. The paper withdrew its request.
The reason this sounds familiar, of course, is because of the controversy last December, when a White Plains, N.Y., newspaper (the Journal News) published the names and addresses of handgun permit holders. That newspaper, too, ended up succumbing to the outrage directed against it.
During the course of the latter controversy, the newspaper’s publisher, Janet Hasson, had this to say: “New York residents have the right to own guns with a permit and they also have a right to access public information.” Makes good sense to me. But not to the many public officials who, in each of these cases,rushed to make the information private.
Citizens who are reassured by this stampede to withhold information should consider: Secrecy is almost always the first instinct of politicians. That previous lawmakers have made a determination that the name and address of any handgun permit holder in New York State “shall be a public record” is evidence of an uncommonly enlightened understanding that certain kinds of information should be in the public domain. Why today’s readiness to deny that it is in the public interestfor such information to be available? We seem to be in one of those recurring periods in our society when concerns about privacy regularly trump an allegiance to informed self-governance. Fear for loss of privacy is eminently reasonable. But we can’t afford to forget the cost of ignorance.