From F. Paul Valone, president of gun-rights group Grass Roots North Carolina, in response to “Gun lobby’s warning shot is a bad misfire” (July 27 editorial):
Newspapers once printed lists of handgun permit applicants, who were sometimes treated as pariahs. Fortunately, as populations grew the practice faded.
Now the media offer fresh fear-mongering: A search engine of N.C. concealed handgun permit-holders by partial address. Run for your life! Your neighbor has guns!
For no journalistic reason yet named, WRAL reporter Mark Binker published it amid an innocuous piece on concealed carry applications. WRAL General Manager Steve Hammel insists street numbers aren’t given, only street names. Under questioning, however, he admitted that for 24 hours, it revealed at least some full addresses. It revealed some apartment numbers and, on streets with few houses, helps identify gun owners.
Why does anyone even need this information? The only people subjected to similar treatment are sex offenders, to protect against predation. Does WRAL consider permit-holders dangerous?
Grass Roots North Carolina didn’t want this battle, but scores of emails from outraged members – some with satellite photos showing theirs as the sole houses on roads identified – persuaded us to act.
Hammel insisted WRAL only divulged public information, ignoring that such data is otherwise available only by request from law enforcement officials, not by address-searchable Internet database. Moreover, Binker was the second reporter to recently abuse these records. Although WRAL didn’t quite release full addresses, the next media outlet probably would.
So when negotiations failed, GRNC decided to demonstrate that unlike decades past, when media could “out” gun owners with impunity, thanks to the Internet, nobody monopolizes information. We had supporters tell WRAL advertisers to withdraw ads. The first target, an auto dealer, complied. Then we linked Internet information about the Binkers – all public information, most published by Binker himself. Like WRAL, we didn’t publish his full address even though, unlike the permit-holder list, it’s available on the Internet. Knowing people were upset, we took precautions, admonishing them to treat WRAL representatives civilly.
Regarding “poor Mark Binker,” when 399,2681 citizens applied for concealed handgun permits, most didn’t consider their personal information game for journalistic fishing expeditions. Binker, by contrast, made willful actions for which he should have anticipated consequences.
Judging by media squealing, our warning shot found its mark. Alarmed journalists even sputtered that gun rights activists should be proud to be “outed.” Ignoring, momentarily, that domestic violence victims getting permits to protect against abusers, for example, are not “gun rights activists,” I don’t discuss my guns for the same reason I carry concealed: Tactical advantage. If attacked, I don’t want the perp to know I’m armed until his knowledge is moot.
To analyze permits, media databases should be searchable only by five-digit zip code. GRNC now calls on Hammel to serve viewers by changing WRAL’s database to that format.
Gun owners support GRNC. Since the alert I’ve received eight negative comments and signed up 59 new members. Only strong action could convince reporters that camouflaging misbehavior behind public information carries a penalty, and that thanks to the Internet, we all live in “glass houses.”