Controversy over gun permit database has happened in Va. before

Posted at 12:13 AM, Dec 27, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--A New York newspaper has drawn criticism after releasing a map that displays the names and addresses of thousands of gun permit holders in two New York counties.

The list, published by The Journal News, was filed under the headline, “The Gun Owner Next Door: What You Don’t Know About the Weapons in Your Neighborhood.”  

The article lists information on pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties. 

The Virginia Citizen’s Defense League said that Virginia gun owners are no strangers to this type of exposure.

In 2007, in the wake of the Virginia Tech school shootings, The Roanoke Times published both the names and addresses of about 135,000 Virginians with permits to carry concealed weapons.

“There was such a huge out roar,” said League president Philip Van Cleave.

The League launched the first offensive against the newspaper, and argued the list violated the privacy rights of thousands of law abiding citizens.  The league also argued that it gave potential criminals information about where to find guns, placing thousands of gun owners’ lives in danger.

“I talked to several people,” Van Cleave said  “There was one lady who had to move, he said, “she had to pick up roots and move.”

Amid criticism, The Roanoke Times removed its list within a few days, however The Journal News defends its decision, and argued that its readers have the right to know which of their neighbors might have firearms.

“The massacre in Newtown remains top-of-mind of many of our readers,” the newspaper wrote in a statement.

The paper also acknowledged that the information was obtained through a routine Freedom of Information request.

Open records advocate and blogger Nathan Cox said that while he believes all government information should be readily available to the public, he questioned whether gun permit holders fall in this category.

“Why not publish DUI convictions instead?” Cox said.  “I think that  would be much more relative to a neighborhood scenario than who carries a gun.”

Virginia gun owners said that the shootings at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary School were tragic, but argued that permit holders shouldn’t be made the scape goats of people’s outrage towards tragedies. 

“In both cases we had maniacs doing things, people with no conscience,” Van Cleave said.  “Then someone in the paper decides they’re going to go after  someone like me, who has never hurt anybody.”