The Right Opinion

Gun Owners Have a Right to Privacy

By John Stossel · Apr. 6, 2011

If you own a gun in Illinois, take precautions. The state attorney general, Lisa Madigan, wants to release the names of guns owners in response to an Associated Press request. Publication of that list would tell the criminal class where the guns are, which could be useful to two different sorts of lawbreakers: gun thieves who want to know where the guns are and burglars who want to know where they are not.

New York City released its list recently at The New York Times' request. It included “dozens of boldface names and public figures: prominent business leaders, elected officials, celebrities, journalists, judges and lawyers,” the Times reported. It then named names.

People who want the lists made public say the disclosure is necessary to assure that government doesn’t issue permits to felons. They point to an AP report that gun permits were given to hundreds of felons in Florida, Tennessee and Indiana. So because government is not competent enough to obey its own rules, the rest of us must have our privacy compromised? I don’t buy it.

As Richard Pearson of the Illinois State Rifle Association says: “There is no legitimate reason for anyone to have access to the information. The safety of real people is at stake here. Once this information is released, it will be distributed to street gangs and gun-control groups, who will use the data to target gun owners for crime and harassment.”

Good point. One nice thing about concealed weapons is that even people who don’t carry guns are safer because the muggers can’t tell who is armed and who isn’t. Releasing the list of permit-holders undermines that benefit. It’s not unusual for a woman who has been threatened by an ex-husband or boyfriend to obtain a gun and a carry permit for self-protection. Why should the threatening male get to find out if the woman is armed?

The anti-gun lobby downplays this danger as though it were inconceivable that someone would get names off a list in order to commit violence. However, we know of cases where people named on sex-offender registries were murdered.

We also know that lawful gun owners in New Orleans had their guns confiscated by government authorities after Hurricane Katrina.

No one should be soothed by assurances that publication of those lists poses no threat to law-abiding gun owners.

Let’s take this a step further. This issue is presented as one of those balancing acts: The privacy of lawful gun owners, we’re told, must be balanced by the people’s “right to know” and the need to hold government accountable. But the only reason that governments have lists of gun owners is that they require licenses or concealed-carry permits. The right to self-defense, and therefore the right to buy and carry a handgun (the most effective means of self-defense), should require no one’s permission. It is a natural right. The Second Amendment didn’t invent the right to own guns. It merely recognizes it: “(T)he right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It doesn’t say, “The people shall have the right to keep and bear arms.”

Alaska, Arizona, Wyoming and Vermont recognize this right and require no permits to carry guns. (Montana also has this policy in all but a few urban areas.)

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court, while striking down outright bans on handguns, left room for permits. But it’s hard to see how that is consistent with the natural right of self-defense.

I leave aside whether a felon who has served his sentence should be deprived of the means of self-defense because there’s a more practical point: Gun laws have no effect on people who plan to break other, more serious laws. Guns are the tools of the criminal trade. If people in that business can’t get them legally, they’ll get them in the black market. And where there is prohibition, there will always be a black market.

The law of supply and demand is as reliable as the law of gravity.

I say we reject the premise that the state can legitimately exercise this power at all. What would Thomas Jefferson have said about gun permits?


View all comments


M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

I suggest they print a list of all the folks who do not have guns. That would really be helpful to the criminal element that these leftists seek to empower.By the way, where I am, that would also be the "short list".But seriously, who do these people think they are that they have the responsibility and authority to publish such records? Maybe using the same logic, we should demand and obtain abortion records and publish them - just to make certain that no abortion laws are being violated without detection by the government.Somehow I do not think the left will be as anxious to print that list.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 2:00 AM

Ed Shipley said:

The founders of our country did not invent any of the rights enumerated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The rights were pre-existing in God's "Natural Law" that philosophers of that time believed everyone had, except the recognized that some governments and tyrannies wrongly prevented some rights from being available to the people under them.As a practical matter, firearms are, of course, "arms". However, if ever there is invented something better, more effective, equally or more portable, inexpensive, and easier to deploy in times of need, the word "arms" must apply to it as well. Think "lightsaber" of StarWars.In the early Middle Ages in Europe, common arms included daggers, dirks, swords, cudgels, and quarterstaffs. as well as bows and arrows. Many governments at that time and place restricted who could legally own those weapons, in effort to prevent insurrection, revolt, and common crime. However, bad guys in those times did not heed the restrictions, and only the good, honest peasant was disarmed. Most American gun laws were written to keep immigrants, black freed slaves, and poor whites in the South and North from being armed to defend themselves . Machine guns, short-barrelled rifles and shotguns and "silenced" weapons were taxed, and made subject to law enforcement license in the 1930's. You know, Bonnie and Clyde. But cops still used the same weapons, and still do. Think Ruby Ridge or Waco.And as far as I know, no licensed owner of an American machine gun has ever committed a crime in this country with such a weapon since the law establishing licenses for them has existed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 2:55 AM

JJStryder said:

The Second amendment IS my gun license.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 3:50 AM

Jsmith in Fredericksburg said:

First of all, kudos to the three who posted before me: you are all correct.While I am fortunate enough not to live in Illinois or New York, folks should know that I own a gun because (1) I know how to use it and (2) there will be no hesitation on my part. I suspect that is true in many or most cases. Criminals will more likely want to know who does NOT have a gun.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 7:42 AM

Tom said:

There is a well-respected company that serves as a clearinghouse for information on a paid subscription basis. It's been around a long time. It has recently acquired significant companies who own or process private or confidential records, including financial records. This company is right now in the process of collecting EVERY SINGLE PUBLICLY AVAILABLE RECORD ON EVERY INDIVIDUAL IN THE US. They will do so by employing teams of people to go and scan documents at their point of storage. I'm sure this database will be mined and used in any number of ways to assemble a full and complete picture of every individual American citizen for government use or any other bidder who wants to pony up the money for it. Kiss your privacy completely good bye.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 7:54 AM

G Dub45 in Lee's Summit, MO said:

@ Tom - As one Patriot to another - would you please divulge the name of the "clearinghouse" company you allude to above ?Other Patriots have a need to know.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 8:21 AM

Eric said:

I was born in Illinois know how corrupt their state government has been over the decades. When I received my first gun, a shot gun, 20 gauge, Remington 870 pump with ventilated rib and a nice recoil pad, I was 13-years-old and had to acquire a photo ID back then. That was the 1970's. This year, with all the ruck about gun laws and tax increases on an unprecedented scale, My parents are preparing to sell and move away from Illinois. Dad plans to take his two dozen gun collection with hi. All purchased out of state and none registered. My dad is a true patriot! Go Dad!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 9:16 AM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA said:

@M rick Timms, MD: "Maybe using the same logic, we should demand and obtain abortion records and publish them - just to make certain that no abortion laws are being violated without detection by the government."Continuing with that logic let us require journalists to id their sources. I'm sure they would be happy to satisfy the public's "right to know" the basis of stories they print.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 10:12 AM

MoeLarryCurly said:

They'll take my 2x4-with-protruding-nails from my cold, dead hands.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 11:24 AM

Roger the K said:

They don't have to dig up any records to find out about me, just drive by my house. There's a sign out front with a silhouette target full of bullet holes that says "Nothing inside is worth dying for".

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 12:15 PM

MNIce in Minnesota said:

In many states, there is a requirement for medical personnel to report cases of STDs. So, in the interests of public safety (health), following the logic of the newspulpers that want gun registry information, we should make public the names of infected persons so everyone can know who is cheating on spouses. I'm sure the NY Times readers will find this even more titillating than gun ownership records.Somebody should remind the muckraking "journalists" that the right to be secure in one's person, papers and effects places proper limits on their behavior just as much as on that of government officials.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 12:48 PM

lee said:

some numbers. some from A.P. aricle referenced by the Il. A.G., and some from FBI crime stats.concealed gun permits in Fla. 1987:25,000 2005:410,000violent crime (all) 1987:123,168 2005:113.541population increase: priceless

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 4:53 PM

lee said:

I went to the AP aricle referenced and saw that the writer was indeed concerned that felons had gotten concealed carry permits in Florida. The article points to the fact that only 25,000 Floridians had a carry permit in 1987 and that 410,000 can now carry a firearm. WOW. One would think that with all of those guns around, crime would be astronaumical.Acccording to the FBI, 1987 violent crime (all) was 123,168 . 2005 violent crime (all) was 113,541.Not all violent crime involves guns so I say that the rise in carry permits has been a deterent of violent crime

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 5:59 PM

Army Officer said:

"And as far as I know, no licensed owner of an American machine gun has ever committed a crime in this country with such a weapon since the law establishing licenses for them has existed."Actually, Ed, there was one. It was an off-duty police officer who did a murder/suicide with a full-auto. So since the National Firearms Act became law 77 years ago we've had one crime with a legal, privately-owned machine gun - by a cop.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 7:45 PM

enemaofthestatistquo said:

This column is the 1st time in my memory, & in the several years I've read Patriot Post, where a column by a guest commentator has been "Opinions expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of The Patriot Post." What gives, have you alreadsy cashed the AOL check?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 9:05 PM