After much thought, list of gun permit holders will not appear online

March 24, 2004
by Linda Austin
Ft Wayne News-Sentinel

Thomas Jefferson once wrote differences of opinion will arise "in this happy country," but free discussion clears away the "passing clouds" and leaves "our horizon more bright and serene."

If that's true, we are in for a very bright and serene future here in Fort Wayne. About 3,000 of you responded to a question we asked last week about whether The News-Sentinel should provide on its Web site the ability to search a publicly available list of gun permit holders in Allen County.

The overwhelming majority opposed posting the list, but regardless of which side you're on, we'd like to thank everyone who contributed to the debate.

After listening to many of you and reading pages and pages of e-mails, as well as consulting experts in ethics and law enforcement, we've decided not to provide easier access to this public record on our Web site. The prospect of harm seems to outweigh the potential for public good.

Click on the "Read More..." link below for more.

One of the strongest arguments for making the list searchable online was the ability for parents to check whether a household where their child would be playing included a permit holder. However, the list does not include every gun owner. Those who own rifles or shotguns, or who never carry their handgun outside the home do not need a permit. Even after consulting the list, parents would still have to do as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends and ask how guns are secured in homes where their child visits.

Opponents to making the public list more easily accessible often expressed concern providing just the names and towns of permit holders would give resourceful burglars a road map to houses with guns to steal. Local law enforcement officials differed on whether that would be true. Mike Dooley, who reported the March 15 story on the county's typical gun permit holder, spoke with some convicted burglars to get their views.

Now reformed, the two burglars told Dooley they wouldn't have used such a list to determine which homes to burglarize. One said many of the burglars he knows can't even read that well. The other said he'd assume most people with a permit to carry a gun would have it with them when the house was vacant.

Another argument against making this public information more readily available was that permit holders are the law-abiding ones who have been fingerprinted and gone through background checks. Indeed, very few permits are revoked for misconduct. Of the 311,000 permits outstanding statewide, only 1,047 were revoked or suspended last year, according to the State Police. The most common reason was the permit holder had threatened someone and was restrained by the court from being around that person. Several readers suggested the really valuable list to post would be that of the people who have guns illegally. Unfortunately, no such list exists.

The most compelling argument against providing easier access came from those who are hiding from abusers and who carry guns for protection. As one person wrote about a relative's situation: "Her abusive ex-husband has repeatedly violated a restraining order against him and has threatened to kill her and their children. He has, in the past, beaten her severely, to the point she was in a coma for nearly a week. She has taken great pains to keep herself out of the public record. The apartment she lives in was rented in the name of a friend. . . . She works under a false name. I receive her mail and forward it to her. She has no credit cards; she pays her utilities in cash. But she has a 9mm Glock and a (gun permit). For that she had to submit her real name, her fingerprints and (undergo a) background check. . . . If you published her name and town, her ex would show up there within a few days. One of them would end up dead."

In the end, the potential for that kind of tragedy seemed greater than the chance convenient access to the public list could be used to keep someone from harm.

While we reached this conclusion after much thought and discussion, anyone with programming skills could purchase the list from the state and provide searchable access to it online. So, while the debate over what The News-Sentinel does with the list is over, perhaps we've started a useful conversation about who should have easy access to this information. Twenty-one states allow the public at least some access to this data, and 23 close the records, while six states issue no permits, according to research by The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

As so often happens, we learned much from our readers in this situation. We appreciate your taking the time to share your views and hope we can continue the conversation on other topics of public concern.

Linda Austin can be reached at 461-8239 or [email protected].

1) This newspaper deserves a note expressing approval. All too often, people are guilty of only making contact to criticize.

2) As we suspected, this debate in northeast Indiana, after 70 years of peace, was fueled by at least one Rotten Apple in Ohio - the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

3) All other arguments aside, the paper's online voting indicated that 95% of News-Sentinel readers told the paper to trash their idea.

4) The paper's main reason for deciding not to publish was the potential for "outing" a victim of violence who is doing everything she can not to be found by her stalker. This is an excellent point, and we've made it here: What if the violent stalker who was shot by this Indiana woman had known in advance that she was carrying? ''God's grace'' (and concealed firearm) saves Indiana woman's life

These Ohio newspapers could care less about women like this in Ohio, much less about your opinion: Rotten Apples and Sour Grapes

You can make a difference in Ohio: Join the Ohio Media Monitoring Task Force

Related Story:
Indiana newspaper hears loud voice of opposition to publishing CCW list

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