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The Herald-Times gun permit database

By Scott Tibbs, January 6, 2010

The Bloomington Herald-Times stirred up a hornet's nest a month ago when they published a database of handgun permits statewide. The National Rifle Association sent an e-mail alert objecting to the decision, and urging members to keep the pressure on when the H-T refused to back down and take down the database.

First, let's get the facts straight. The H-T didn't publish any identifying information on private citizens. What the database shows is how many permits are on a given street. For example, the database would show that 5 permits are on ABC Street in AnyTown, Indiana - but not who holds those permits. The H-T does not list any names or addresses, although that information is currently public record (more on that later) and the newspaper would be well within their legal rights to publish it. It would be relatively simple (though time consuming) for a motivated blogger to publish not only the street names, but names and addresses of permit holders on the internet.

Some of the complaints about the database were unreasonable. One letter to the editor referred to it as a "socialist-communist database" that will allow the President "to confiscate legal guns from law-abiding citizens in the future." I am pretty sure that if the federal government wanted to illegally use a database to confiscate handguns, they would go to the Indiana State Police and get the names and addresses of gun owners, not just the HeraldTimesOnline.com list of how many permits are on a given street.

The Herald-Times didn't do itself any favors with a backhanded slap at gun owners in a staff editorial just before the controversy erupted. A portion of that editorial is quoted below:

Permits spiked in the months around the election of Barack Obama as president, prompting gun dealers to refer to "the Obama factor." This shows a troubling distrust - paranoia? - about the new administration. Our research doesn't say whether it's just political or political and racial, but we have our suspicions.
Source: December 1, 2009 Herald-Times editorial.

Suggesting the spike in permits is because the permit holders are paranoid racists is not a good way to convince people that this is simply a way to provide information that subscribers would find interesting, instead of an agenda driven attempt to score political points. The Herald-Times already has a poor reputation, and this does not help.

The gun permit information kept by the State Police might not be public information for very much longer. State representatives Peggy Welch and Mike Murphy, along with state senator Greg Walker, have introduced legislation to prevent the release of the information to the public.

I support this legislation. There is no reason for the names and addresses of every gun permit holder in Indiana to be public record, available to anyone in the nation for a small fee. Private citizens, provided they are not doing anything wrong, should not expect to have their personal information be available to anyone. While public access to property ownership records, incorporation records, arrest records and voter registration records all serve a public benefit, there is no public benefit to have handgun permits be public record.

If there is a benefit to the gun permit database, it will be that this hole in privacy will be filled. Since the 2010 legislative session is a short session, there will be less time to get this done, but the legislature should make this a priority. If they do not, voters should make them pay for it in November.