Shame on the Roanoke Times.
Last Sunday, its columnist Christian Trejbal published an online database of registered concealed handgun permit holders in the New River Valley under the sanctimonious guise of “Sunshine Week:”
Today is the start of Sunshine Week, the annual week in which we reflect on the importance of open government and public records. To mark the occasion, I want to take you on an excursion into freedom of information land. We’re going to find out who in the New River Valley has a concealed handgun permit.
I can hear the shocked indignation of gun-toters already: It’s nobody’s business but mine if I want to pack heat.
Au contraire. Because the government handles the permitting, it is everyone’s business.
There are good reasons the records are open to public scrutiny. People might like to know if their neighbors carry. Parents might like to know if a member of the car pool has a pistol in the glove box. Employers might like to know if employees are bringing weapons to the office.
And all Virginians have a stake in checking that their government is not making mistakes, for example, by issuing permits to convicted felons. Open records allow the media or any private citizen to check.
Trejbal denied that exposing concealed carry permit holders was “about being for or against guns.” But he exposed his true agenda when he compared law-abiding gun owners to…sex offenders:
A state that eagerly puts sex offender data online complete with an interactive map could easily do the same with gun permits, but it does not.
He showed reckless disregard for the safety of the license holders and reckless disregard for accuracy. In his column, he admitted that he knew some of the information he had obtained was inaccurate:
I immediately started checking some names. Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer, no permit. Pulaski County Supervisor Dean Pratt, packing. Radford University President Penelope Kyle, no permit. Giles County Supervisor Paul “Chappy” Baker, packing.
Some of the names proved tricky. Dana Dwayne Munsey of Pembroke has a permit. Is that Mayor Munsey? Standoffish town officials wouldn’t provide a middle name or address for confirmation, and the listed phone number is disconnected.
The list sports a dismayingly large number of typos for an official registry — four different spellings of “Christiansburg,” for example.
Local celebrities generally don’t carry, but at least a half dozen elected officials do. I’ll leave it to readers to figure out which ones so you can avoid annoying them at meetings.
As a Sunshine Week gift, The Roanoke Times has placed the entire database, mistakes and all, online at www.roanoke.com/gunpermits. You can search to find out if neighbors, carpool partners, elected officials or anyone else has permission to carry a gun.
After an uproar among gun-owners, the Times has finally decided to yank the database. The paper reported today:
One day after igniting a firestorm of criticism, The Roanoke Times decided Monday to remove from its Web site a list of Virginians licensed to carry concealed weapons.
The list, published as part of an opinion column about open records that ran Sunday in the newspaper’s New River Valley Current section, was taken down Monday afternoon out of concern that it might include names that should not have been made public, president and publisher Debbie Meade said.
Although she had received no official word from Virginia State Police, which provided the data at the paper’s request, Meade said she was concerned enough about complaints from readers to act out of an abundance of caution.
“Our concern is that if the information should have been protected and it wasn’t, then we don’t want to run it,” Meade said.
The list, which included both the names and street addresses of about 135,000 Virginians with permits to carry concealed weapons, was linked to a column by editorial writer Christian Trejbal that ran in the Current section.
Hundreds of readers complained on the newspaper’s message board and to a gun-rights group that publishing the names of concealed-weapons permit holders violated the privacy of law-abiding citizens and gave potential criminals information that would help them find victims.
“By publishing that list, you’ve created a windfall for criminals,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Van Cleave and others argued that convicted felons, barred from buying guns at stores, could use the list to select homes to burglarize in their search for firepower.
Another concern was for the safety of domestic abuse victims, who might want to carry concealed weapons for their own protection but don’t want an abusive former partner to know where they live. With those addresses now public, “the stalkers and the rapists and those people are more empowered,” Van Cleave said.
Trejbal seems not to feel much remorse:
While expressing sympathy for concealed-weapons permit holders who might have been put in a difficult position by publication of the list, Trejbal added that information about individual permit holders is readily available at any courthouse.
“Did we make it easier [to obtain the information]? Yes,” he said. “But it’s still a public record.”
He published a list he knew contained inaccuracies. His paper admits the decision endangered gun owners. He compiled a convenient shopping list for criminals–and smacked law-abiding gun owners in the face with his comparison of their choice to exercise their rights with sex offenders.
I’ll give a few of the gun owners outraged by the paper’s reckless behavior the last word:
As Dale Hawley wrote on the newspaper’s message board, such a comment ignores the fact that people who apply to carry a concealed weapon for legitimate reasons of self-protection must undergo background checks to ensure they have no criminal record.
“That you don’t understand this is, at best, terrible ignorance and at worst smacks of prejudice and yellow journalism,” Hawley wrote on the online forum, which had generated more than 300 comments by midday Monday.
Another poster wrote: “I’ve moved twice to get away from a violent ex. Now I have to move again. I really appreciate you publishing my address. Gee, thanks.”