Debate over Public Gun Information Undermines Excuse for Guns

I’m agnostic about but very interested in the uproar over the publication of people in the NY suburbs who have permits to own handguns. It does infringe on the privacy of people who are engaging in a protected activity. But at the same time, that activity exposes others to risks they have an interest in knowing about.

Ultimately, I compare it to websites that allow you to search political donations by address. Political donations are protected by the First Amendment. But no one I know has objected to the publication of it by neighborhood (when I still lived in Ann Arbor, I discovered there was a guy whose last name was Koch who was maxing out donations he apparently couldn’t afford–given his modest house–to Republicans, right in the middle of my otherwise entirely Democratic neighborhood). Similarly, in most cases, petition signers’ names can be publicly released. If your political donations can be made public, why not your gun permit?

All that said, I’m amused by the excuses gun owners make, particularly that public records of gun ownership will make those permit holders the target for thieves.

“Publishing gun owners’ names makes them targets for theft or public ridicule. It is journalistic arrogance to abuse public record privilege, just as it is to air 911 calls for no reason or to publish the home addresses of police or judges without cause,” Al Tompkins, a Poynter senior faculty member, said in a statement Wednesday. “Unwarranted publishing of the names of permitted owners just encourages gun owners to skip the permitting.”

If I’m a thief, I’m going to selectively rob the houses where I know the owner is likely to be armed, rather than the reverse? Really? So guns are only a protection against crimes in schools, but not in a home?

It makes no sense.

One other thing that makes no sense? The same people who railed against publishing gun permit information on Twitter immediately got silent when yesterdays debate on FISA started up.

So apparently permitting the government to collect all of your communications is less intrusive than letting your neighbors know you’re armed?

Again, I see both sides of this debate and am rather more interested in what the debate says about our attitude toward guns. But thus far, it has seemed entirely inconsistent with everything else gun owners say about their guns.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

58 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    i cannot think of publishing names without thinking of doctors who provide abortions haeving their names publshed.

    that was done malevoluntly with the intent to intimidate and terrify and almost certainly with the hope that someone would attack one of these physicians.

    compared to this brutal harrament, having a newspaper publish your name if you have a gun permit seems common reportorial activity with neither malice nor harrassment intended.

    clearly the gun-owners outrage stems from embarrassment and anger at being stigmatized.

    how is it that that proud, defiant certainty that seemed to be the hallmark of the pistol-packin’ gang of americans suddenly melted into a pool of butter.

  2. scribe says:

    Publishing the names and addresses of gun owners provides information to prospective criminals in two ways. First, it allows them to know who has guns, so as to avoid the houses with guns (and armed response)in the event they intend to break in. Second, it allows them to know where to steal guns, in the event they want to break in and get a gun. They wait for vacations or when no one’s home to go to the gun owners’ houses.

    Keeping the information on who has gun permits from public view is akin to gun owners, when buying a gun safe, declining the free delivery service from the store and using cash rather than credit card for the purchase. The delivery personnel are inherently suspect for either having lowlife friends or being lowlifes themselves. Not that they would do the burglary themselves, but someone in their circle of friends who wanted a gun would love that kind of information. Similarly, no one knows who gets the information on what your card purchases are.

    The potential and actual social opprobrium entailed in being on a published list of gun owners is something which cannot be elided. Particularly in the northeast, anti-gun sentiment is relatively strong in “bluer” segments of America. While the individual social contacts or snubs which might result from being on a published list are both too manifold and subtle to lay out in detail, it should be obvious to just about anyone that some people will be exposed to societal scorn for … exercising a constitutional right. No one is going to scorn the publishers or reporters of a newspaper any more than they already are, for publishing this.

    One cannot also exclude that some knucklehead, facing a long jail term for his crimes and needing someone to rat out to be “cooperating” and cut his jail term, would put the published list to use to find someone to inform on. Even if the knucklehead’s information was ultimately debunked, it would be after the victim of the informant was exposed to criminal prosecution and expended tens of thousands of dollars in his own defense.

    No one’s going to jail for funnelling Koch money into Michigan. And no one’s using that information to implicate them in crimes they didn’t commit. At worst, they’re getting embarrassed. And if they’re being mocked in Democratic circles, they don’t give a shit about that because they get off on enraging Democrats.

    Your comment on the FISA debate, while well intentioned, misstates the facts. Anti-gun people (Bloomberg prima inter pares) have long decried that the ATF and FBI (and the rest of the federal government, for that matter) are statutorily prohibited from retaining the information on who buys and sells guns in any database. The complaint goes along the lines of “it would help to solve crimes”, etc. The data on buying and selling guns is required to be retained by the Federal Firearms License holder who does the sale/transaction, for 20 years after he closes his business. And it’s a serious federal felony (5-10 years prison) for the FFL to fail to do so. AFAIK, it is required to be retained on paper, not electronically. If/when a crime is committed, the feds/cops can go to the FFL any time to go through his records to help solve the crime. The FFL is required to keep them open for no-notice inspection at any time.

    In short, what gun owners, buyers and sellers presently have (and anti-gun militants want to take away) vis-a-vis transaction information, is what you, EW, would love for the rest of us to have vis-a-vis our electronic communications of all sorts: a clear prohibition on the government capturing, retaining and accumulating the information into databases which can be used for any purpose without review. In other words, the anti-gun people want to strip the free exercise of a constitutional right and convert it into something the can use to further oppress, and make its exercise into something governed by and removable at the whim of some low-level cop figure. (Which, FWIW, shows why Feinstein is being consistent in both her FISA renewal behavior and her gun-control approaches.)

    While you might think you understand the contours of the debate, I think you’re overstating your understanding.

  3. Saltinwound says:

    I am amused that the best quote they could get was from a Poynter faculty member. Columbia was on vacation?

  4. rg says:

    “…interested in what the debate says about our attitude toward guns.”

    It’s also interesting in what it says about our attitudes toward privacy. Your ambivalence is reflected in the dilemma of the gun owners having to choose between their 2nd amendment rights and their privacy. I see a difference between the focus of those arming for protection and those who have a sales-promotion agenda, who will say anything to serve that agenda. Interestingly, I happened to hear some bit on NPR yesterday about the recent surge in gun sales. The hapless “reporter” asked a gun merchant for his take on the cause of this. His reply amounted to a brief advertisement for gun ownership, including the view that when you’re being invaded you can’t rely on the police to protect you. Now this may tell us something about our view of the relation to government and other people ( in my first sentence, I referred to our “attitudes” in the plural because I don’t see any singe view or attitude toward anything that would represent “our” national character).
    I suspect those of us interested in privacy and government surveillance issues could find common cause with gun owners (rather than gun salesmen).

  5. orionATL says:


    – stealing guns from houses that have had the presence of guns advertised in the paper has got to be low on any thief’s list. in our neighborhood the thieves have just walked in after knocking ( :) ) and taken what small stuff they could – jewelry, money, and guns are great for this purpose – and skedaddled.

    – if the lists are public, they can be published. there are lots of such lists. i see no reason why gun-ownership lists should be treated differently from others.

    – if the gun lists are public and if a person wants to steal from that list, she does not have to wait for publication. i can go thru a dozen public lists in the comfort of my home, e.g., home sales, property ownership, tax lists, restaurant inspection,…

    – the real objection from gun owners is to embarrassment and stigmatization – my my. all the other objections are just serious-consequences-sounding fluff, a variant of the same sort of sophistry the gun lobby has used for decades to support gun sales and defeat regulation. terrible things will happen (or be prevented), terrible things i tell you…


  6. orionATL says:


    “…In other words, the anti-gun people want to strip the free exercise of a constitutional right and convert it into something the can use to further oppress, and make its exercise into something governed by and removable at the whim of some low-level cop figure…”

    oh, come on, scribe, you’re way too sharp to believe this.

  7. orionATL says:


    “…it’s also interesting in what it says about our attitudes toward privacy. Your ambivalence is reflected in the dilemma of the gun owners having to choose between their 2nd amendment rights and their privacy…”

    if you asked him, supreme court justice antonin scalia, that right-wing theist madquerading as a judge, would tell you that the constitition carries no right to privacy (unless he says it does).

    scalis is the justice whose severely, embarrasingly contorted reasoning was the basis of the court’s 5-4 decision that individuals had a constitutional right to own pistols.

    so don’t count on your privacy rights when exercising your newly minted “second ammendment right” to own a pistol.

  8. TheraP says:

    Thank you for opening this discussion, EW.

    Thank you,@scribe: for such a long and excellent comment.

    I am convinced we need records not only of people “licensed” to use a firearm, but also of all firearms. Were I a parent of a young child, I would sure want to know if their friends’ parents had firearms in the house. I’d want to know this about neighbors. Particularly any neighbors acting strangely – in whatever form.

    It seems to me that the second amendment concept of “a well-regulated militia” suggests that regulation is not only permissible but actually part of the amendment. And that would mean knowing “who” was supposedly “in” the “militia” – and I’d put law enforcement as particularly interested in knowing this. For the public good.

    As for the gun-owners wanting to keep that private, to me the more important issue is the public’s overriding need for common welfare. I liken this to the fact that therapists are obliged to maintain the confidentiality of their patients – but NOT when it comes to dangerousness. A patient’s potential for violence (whether to self or other) TRUMPS confidentiality. Due to public welfare.

    Gun owners fearing that someone might steal a firearm have a simple solution. These weapons should be locked in safes! Additionally, they can provide for security systems – to prevent anyone from entering their home without their permission. It’s also very easy to add boxes (to check) on an application indicating that the owner keeps any firearms securely locked in a safe and/or that their home has a security system, which alerts local authorities.

    I wrote about this recently in a blog related to “disentangling guns and mental health”:

    If a legal right to confidentiality can be overridden due to the public’s “need to know” in the case of psychotherapy, I suspect that the “well-regulated militia” clause should be made use of – also for the public good.

    One further thought about how we balance amendments to the Constitution: If I write a letter to the editor, making use of my First Amendment rights, I do not routinely get to keep my name confidential. And along with my name is generally printed my city and state. So I could be found! Indeed I once got a phone call after a letter to the NY Times (related to habeas corpus) was published some years back.

    If people who own guns want that to be secret, WHY??? How does that benefit society? And if it benefits the individual, then I want to know more about that!

    I admit that when it comes to guns, I am for the strongest possible regulation. Including searchable databases. Of registered firearms. And registered users. If such openness hinders some from seeking to own weapons, great!

    With rights come responsibilities. And if the entire Constitution relates to public welfare and the general good, then my welfare and my good should not be held hostage by people who want to pack guns or keep them or buy them or borrow them or rent them SECRETLY!

  9. TheraP says:


    I suspect you mean, even if someone disagrees with the content… Well, I welcome disagreement! Indeed, I arrived at my positions after I realized that the “right” has taken extreme positions on gun ownership, and therefore that behooved me, on the left, to lay out equally extreme positions. So that any compromises down the road would give my side a fighting chance!

  10. TheraP says:


    With regard to the abortion argument, I’d concede that society had some right to regulate abortions much more IF society had undertaken the responsibility to support that child – from birth on. If society had committed itself to providing parental support and education, food, clothing, shelter for both mother and child. And so on. In other words, if a prospective mother were assured that bringing her child to term – and for the entire upbringing of the child she could count upon a “whole village” in every sense of the word, wow, wouldn’t that benefit society? This is another topic, I realize, but again we have to balance not only constitutional rights but rights and responsibilities of both individuals and society at large. (I see no argument in routinely publishing the names and addresses of medical personnel – whether they perform abortions or any type of procedure which some view as immoral, for example fertility treatments or blood transfusions, organ transplants, etc.)

    Seems to me the right wants to have its cake and eat it too. For example those who prefer to have no taxes, but want to suck on the Federal teat when it comes to getting government subsidies. For example, my family member who is in the Tea Party – and takes full advantage of things like being paid to feed wildlife and to build roads on their own property – roads entirely built by them, I mean!

  11. orionATL says:


    abortion is another topic – another very hot topic.

    but i too have thought if only we as a society would help the parent(s) raise the child with promises of, e.g., adequate health care, food, education, etc.

    alas, as best i can tell, the view of many of us is the very punitive, “you did it (got pregnant), now you deal with the consequences. and don’t expect any help from us.”

  12. TheraP says:


    Yes… the argument that one’s circumstances are a proof of one’s moral status. To whit, if you’re unemployed, it’s your fault. If you’ve been raped or physically abused, you deserved it. If you’re poor you are undeserving. Etc.

    We’ve lost the concept of a social contract. Especially by those on the right. And if this continues I think we as a society have sown the seeds of our own destruction.

    But what do I know?? sigh….

  13. scribe says:

    I once lived in a jurisdiction where the purchase and possession of firearms is conditioned on gaining an ID card of sorts. The cards are issued by the local police chief. Since I like to hunt, I wanted such a card. The application is lengthy, involves not only a criminal background check and fingerprinting, but also involved waiving one’s Fourth Amendment rights, allowing the police access to your dwelling at any time, for any reason or no reason at all.

    I was prepared to go through with this and went to the police station to pick up the application form. The officer behind the desk said
    I could have one, but that it was useless because “the Chief decided he doesn’t want anyone to have guns, so you’re wasting your time”.

    orionATL, a year or so ago you were among the folks howling the loudest about Tony Baloney and the other NYPD thugs busting up OWS protests, cabining the press into pens where they could report what they were told to report and nothing more, and generally thugging it up on anyone daring to express (what they thought were) their First Amendment protected views. In no small degree, you are being a hypocrite of the first order in demanding that all persons surrender their Second Amendment rights so you can feel safe.

    Like it or not, defend Scalia or (like me) not, the fact of the matter remains that the right to keep and bear arms is a textually-defined right protected against your government encroaching upon it by the Constitution, just as much as the First Amendment rights are textually-defined rights protected against your government deciding that speech is offensive to TPTB or whatever. (Scalia’s at least got the positive of being consistent – he’s being a textualist when he says there is a right to keep and bear arms or to free speech, versus denying there’s a non-textually defined right to privacy. But that debate is for another day and a diversion here.)

    I for one do not trust the police to act to protect me, let alone my rights, against anything, least of all the depredations effected by politicians at the behest of their campaign contributors. It is inherent in the nature of police forces everywhere that they turn the places they control into the equivalent of jails. IF you trust the police, you’re dumber than you look.

  14. JTMinIA says:

    If you’re a peaceful libertarian, the 2nd Amendment is such a headache. When I’m being honest, what it really boils down to is not wanting certain people to have guns. I can try to resolve the conflict by hoping that more of these “certain people” will be declared incompetent (i.e., make it a mental-health issue), but the idea that anyone should be declared, in effect, a non-person because they make the rest of us nervous is equally nasty. I know too much about mental health – as a real thing and a social construct – to take that route. So I sit here and watch you all debate with nothing useful to add.

  15. orionATL says:

    “…. In no small degree, you are being a hypocrite of the first order in demanding that all persons surrender their Second Amendment rights so you can feel safe…”

    that lawyerly bullshit of the first order, but you knew that before you wrote it, didn’t.

    the newly minted (heller), sophistically justified, split-decision right of a citizen to own a pistol is nowhere near the same level of importance, consequence, or historic necessity as the rights of the first ammendment – to criticize your government (including its gun policies, get that?), to peaceably assemble, to the exercise of your religion…

    i’m so deeply sorry a police chief prevented you from hunting. most of the places i’ve hunted have had sherriffs only – being way out in the countryside and such. but i suppose if you were hunting rats at the dump a police chief might have been involved much as in “alice’s testaurant”.

    in any event, you don’t indicate when this tragedy occurred. there are very, very few places left in the us today where your pleasures would be thusly frustrated.

  16. scribe says:

    orionATL: you say

    – stealing guns from houses that have had the presence of guns advertised in the paper has got to be low on any thief’s list. in our neighborhood the thieves have just walked in after knocking ( :) ) and taken what small stuff they could – jewelry, money, and guns are great for this purpose – and skedaddled.

    This is yet another proof of your ignorance or, worse, malice. Let’s look at the truth of the matter.

    If one were to ask gun owners about their greatest worries, it is theft. I know. I have this discussion with gun owners all the time – how to prevent thefts and keep their guns safe against thefts. And this is in relatively-low-crime neioghborhoods where everyone knows who belongs. The threat of theft is empirically based. Guns are a prime target of thieves, be they junkies looking to turn a quick buck or go armed in future, professionals who know there is a ready market for them to their criminal friends, or people just looking to make trouble. Most, if not all of the gun owners I know keep them double and triple locked (when not in their nightstands).

    If you want to insure your guns on your homeowners’ policy, you have to list them, item by item, on a rider. Now, we all know there has never been, in the history of insurance, such a thing as a crooked insurance agent, or an insurance agency secretary with a dopehead boyfriend and that they would never ever steal from the insureds.

    Maybe you have polite thieves in your neighborhood. Maybe you’re one yourself. Still a thief. And not all of them are polite.

    – if the lists are public, they can be published. there are lots of such lists. i see no reason why gun-ownership lists should be treated differently from others.

    I know of the existence of more than a couple people who would be happy to suss out your true identity and publish every detail of your life on the internet for the world to see, with color glossy photos and videos, and the names, addresses and predilictions of your lovers, friends, relatives and known associates, license plate numbers, time of your work and workplace(s), and all the rest of your life. If you advocate for that kind of treatment for one group of people – law abiding people – you cannot advocate against it when it gets applied to you.

    I prefer to not live that way.

    – if the gun lists are public and if a person wants to steal from that list, she does not have to wait for publication. i can go thru a dozen public lists in the comfort of my home, e.g., home sales, property ownership, tax lists, restaurant inspection,…

    Most of the kinds of lowlives who do crimes don’t know such exist. But they know the internet exists. You’re advocating for making crime easier.

    The rest of your post is so much drivel, I don’t feel like wasting any more of my time on you. You came here looking not to discuss, learn and resolve, but rather for a fight. Go away.

  17. lefty775 says:

    Thanks scribe for a solid set of comments. Looks like orion’s off his meds again, we all should be glad he’s not armed.

  18. orionATL says:


    i hope your lawyerly arguments are of higher quality than your comments here today. this is just raging b.s.

    and apparently because you imagine a situation where the police could cause some inconvenience to come between you and your pleasure.


    suppose the strawman you conncocted went away and your pleasures were only mildly discommoded. would you then agree that some strong controls on sale of pistols and ammunition would be in the public interest?

  19. orionATL says:

    if you are interested in the demographics of gun ownership in the united states and its trend over time, here is a simple bit of info:

    for myself, there is a big difference in my mind between ownership of pistols and their ammunition and the ownership of rifles.

    then there is that third category: assault weapons, 50-cal “sniper” rifles, machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and the like.

  20. xana says:

    It is a totally unacceptable breach of privacy in any country claiming to be a western democracy.

    It’s perfectly alright for the police or government agencies to keep databases over weapon owners (which I fully support), but private persons have no business having access to them. This would be unconstitutional in country such as Germany or Sweden. The US has among the weakest privacy protection of the western world.

    Furthermore, as noted upthread, it is directly damaging to society in being a proliferation risk a help for potential criminals in planning and targeting victims.

    Whatever positive intended effect seems misguided; I believe “naming-and-shaming” measures to rather inefficient, beside distasteful and primitive.

    Lastly, it is rather counter-productive from a politics point of view, as it does nothing to assuage, on the contrary, the (erroneous as it may be) sentiments of gun proponents of being persecuted (and in fact this measure, per breaching privacy and shaming, as I say above, may in fact count as persecution).

  21. orionATL says:

    if you are interested in hard data on the self-defense fantasies surrounding gun ownership, you will find this report from

    the harvard school of public health injury prevention center informative:

    – “1-3 Guns are not used millions of times each year in self-defense”

    – “4. Most purported self-defense gun uses are gun uses in escalating arguments and are both socially undesirable and illegal ”

    – “6. Guns in the home are used more often to intimidate intimates than to thwart crime.”

    – “7. Adolescents are far more likely to be threatened with a gun than to use one in self-defense.”

    – “8. Criminals who are shot are typically the victims of crime”

    – “9-10. Few criminals are shot by decent law abiding citizens ”

    imagine what other fantasies spouted by the nra’s corporate gun lobby and then picked up and repeated by trusting true-believers could be exposed as false

    if were not for the fact the u.s. centers for disease control has been effectively banned from studying gun violence (or as the nra so grotesquely puts it “advocating for gun control”) by the nra’s legislative puppets in congress.

    citation first noted at brad delong’s blog 12/26/12

  22. orionATL says:


    very earnest,

    but just more strum und drang about an inconsequential matter that will be forgotten in a week more of news cycles.

    furthermore, you can rest assured that there will be legislation in every state legislature in the nation in february banning such disclosure. likely, most of them will pass.

    then we will be back to the norms of western democracy.

  23. orionATL says:

    in reply to orionATL 4:58 pm

    i want to emphasize this finding from the harvard school of public health study:

    “…4. Most purported self-defense gun uses are gun uses in escalating arguments and are both socially undesirable and illegal

    We analyzed data from two national random-digit-dial surveys conducted under the auspices of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. Criminal court judges who read the self-reported accounts of the purported self-defense gun use rated a majority as being illegal, even assuming that the respondent had a permit to own and to carry a gun, and that the respondent had described the event honestly from his own perspective.

    Hemenway, David; Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah. Gun use in the United States: Results from two national surveys. Injury Prevention. 2000; 6:263-267.”

    got that?

    “,,,Criminal court judges who read the self-reported accounts of the purported self-defense gun use rated a majority as being illegal…”

    of course there is much more to be learned and this is not unequivocal research,

    but ain’t science a bitch

    when it comes to myths?

  24. orionATL says:

    more food for thought, and more hypothesis generating research from the harvard injury control research center:

    this finding in particular has a direct bearing on the issue of media companies publishing the names of gun owners in a readership area::

    “…3-4. Gun ownership creates external psychic costs.
    We analyzed whether perceptions of safety might be affected if more people in a community acquired firearms, using data from a national random-digit-dial survey of adults conducted under the auspices of HICRC. By a margin of more than 3 to 1, Americans would feel less safe, not safer, as others in their community acquire guns. Among women, but not among men, those who have been threatened with a gun are particularly likely to feel less safe…”

    who could have guessed?

  25. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within” Durant

    Is the USA destroying itself?

    The family as a micro-example for the entire society,
    – would struggle to survive if it offered no safety net for its members; no financial assistance in time of need, no medical care in time of sickness, no shared responsibility for unexpected children, no educational opportunities for all, no loyalty to one’s spouse,
    – would struggle to survive if it permitted members to arm themselves so as to settle disputes without adjudication, to rebuke family authority violently when they feel slighted,
    – would struggle to survive if justice was unequal and arbitrary,
    – would struggle to survive if financial dominance was each member’s primary objective.

    In my opinion, to function society must be like a large family and individuals need to work to support the family, not to maximise our own personal gain; “Ask not what your country can do for you…”.

    Guns are not the issue except they represent the concept that “I will take my advantage, or defend it, by force”. How would a family possibly succeed if this was the over-arching principle?

    Guns are a symptom, it’s time to start addressing the root cause – societal decay.

  26. Greg Bean (@GregLBean) says:

    Peter Kuznick, Oliver Stone, the difference between the current generation and previous generations is this gerneration is focused on treating the symptoms, they need to look at the root cause.

  27. Vladimir Shklovsky says:

    It is plausible that revealing gun ownership reduces crime. Some gun owners post signs on their houses. It is also plausible that revealing gun ownership will motivate thieves to rob those houses specifically to steal guns, hopefully while the owners are away. I am sure many have been inarticulate when describing the dynamic, but your response was too clever by half.

    Likewise, while your stereo
    type may have a significant chunk of truth to it, you should be more specific about who takes what position on the gun license info and FISA.

  28. emptywheel says:

    @JTMinIA: I was being honest when I said I’m agnostic here. I’m not sure what the answer is. But I do know that the arguments gun defenders are making don’t make any sense to me. And I do know that like the First Amendment, the Second Amendment does not guarantee you freedom from scorn (indeed, even Thomas has supported publication of political speech).

    And I do think non-gun owners should have a means of exercising their own choices about being around guns. That doesn’t exist right now.

  29. emptywheel says:

    @Vladimir Shklovsky: I was not engaging in a stereotype. I was having a discussion w/people on Twitter about this question. And, at the same time, I was live-blogging the FISA debate. Among the people in my thread, there was NO overlap between the two subjects.

    While that may say the people fighting the FAA extension aren’t sufficiently concerned about gun privacy, it also suggests that gun privacy advocates aren’t sufficiently concerned about FAA extension.

  30. Skilly says:

    I can never get past the issue of the firepower and the constitutional limits. IN other words, How much firepower does the constitution think is needed in order to have a well regulated militia? Am I constitutionally guaranteed the right to a bozooka? (do they even exist any more) Can I keep an RPG, or grenade launcher? If I have a constitutional guarantee of an “arm” than why am I not permitted to keep bombs and nukes and/or nerve gas? Please arrange to get me a “textualist” to find me the limit to my arm from the words of the constitution.

    If reasonable minds agree there is a limit, than the only issue is finding the publicly acceptable limit. My argument is that the limit is an indeterminate thing much like a community standard for indecency. In different times and in different circumstances, the line ought be flexible. but to get to this point one has to acknowledge the basic underlying analysis of utility of the possession or use of the weapon versus societal interest in peace and safety. A utilitarian analysis should lead to the logical conclusion that a societal interest will trump the individual right where the societal interest is clearly articulable. What could be more clearly articulable than death of innocents. In a year where the number of gunshot deaths will outnumber the vehicle deaths, I posit we have an articulable interest.

  31. lefty665 says:

    @emptywheel: Funny isn’t it? It seems like many 2nd amendment folks can’t believe data collection means them too. I sometimes get a blank dumb stare when I ask about FISA. OTOH, the OMG ASSAULT WEAPONS reaction is not any more informed, but it is louder.

  32. P J Evans says:

    And how do you feel about the people who were publishing the home addresses and phone numbers of the people who put together that story?

  33. orionATL says:


    i have previously listed some law review and popular mag articles by fordham univ historian saul cornell.

    i can’t find them in the ew archives now (i’m not a technically competent researcher), so i will just repeat here one citation that summarizes cornell’s research:

    from my interpretation, the two key points about the history cornell illuminates about guns and the 2nd ammend are:

    – the constitution was never intended to give, and did not give, an individual a constitutional right to bear arms. any claim that it did is pure “urban legend”.

    instead, the 2nd ammend appears to have been intended as an augmentation of an article 1 obligation of congress to deal with insurrection. the insurrection in mind at the time being shay’s rebellion.

    – the assertion of an individual citizen’s “right to bear arms” was a manufactured artifice dating from 1980 – an artifice manufactured by “scholars” at right-wing think tanks. ***

    *** (for extra credit: what well-loved-by-the-right-wing president was elected in 1980 and in what city/town and state did he give the first speech of his presidential campaign?)

  34. orionATL says:


    ah, lefty –

    you are such a slithering, hissing, twisted little krait.

    how do you square this comment:

    “… lefty775 on December 28, 2012 at 2:40 pm said:
    Thanks scribe for a solid set of comments. Looks like orion’s off his meds again, we all should be glad he’s not armed…”

    with your fawning comment to ew?

    “which side are you on?

    which side are you on?”

    answer: on your own angry side only.

    you really are a contemptible kiss up- kick down little krait, lefty, more about yourbego and a chip on your hunched shoulders,

    than about any concern for the common good.

  35. pdaly says:

    My first thought about a public gun registry was that groups like “Blackwater domestic” (for lack of a better term/stable company name for the offshoot of Blackwater that has been buying up land and creating training sites in the USA) would hate to show a list of the guns they own–or then sell to overseas buyers. However, maybe they would get a special exception under some state secret provision.
    This is from 2007. Eric Prince subsequently left the US. Is he still living with his family in Abu Dhabi?

  36. scribe says:

    @P J Evans: The RPGs are the kind of stuff that finds its way back into the States buried in some returning soldier’s duffel bag and slipped past the Customs MPs (yes, the MPs have some members who are assigned full time to check returning bags and baggage). More common are cases of vets who brought home full-auto AK47s and light squad machineguns they had captured or picked up from some foreign battlefield. That, or the occasional hand grenade you hear about on the TV news as having been found by relatives in some guy’s house after he dies.

    Just another unanticipated side effect of imperial warmaking….

  37. scribe says:

    @pdaly: Actually, Blackwater got busted for illegally importing machineguns into the US. They were AK47s and such and Blackwater used a county sheriff in North Carolina as a straw owner. It is still legal to import machineguns for law enforcement, but not for private ownership (yes, it can be legal to privately own a machinegun, but it is highly regulated and taxed). They got some kind of sweetheart plea deal that involved a fine and a deferred prosecution agreement or something.

  38. lefty665 says:

    @orionATL: Calm down. Your postings demonstrate that OMG ASSAULT WEAPONS is every bit as ignorant as some of the 2nd amendment types are about FISA.

    We’ve got real national problems to resolve. Understanding the issues and talking rationally is the first step in figuring out how to do that. A decent informed discussion is why I hang out here. When you pollute a post, as you have this one, the major contribution you make is to convince reasonable people that your positions are every bit as loony as the Teabaggers are on other issues.

    It may well be that we need to rethink the 2nd amendment, but to deny the original intent does not help the discussion. There is some opinion that it guarantees the 1st, and that is why it is where it is in the Bill of Rights. Please also reread the “Midnight ride of Paul Revere” and remember that the “shot heard round the world” was from a privately owned gun and ragtag citizen resistance. The Iraqis and Afghans have given us a pretty convincing demonstration that asymmetrical opposition to an occupying army can still be effective. The NDAA with its authority for the military to “disappear” citizens reinforces our understanding of our founders fear of a standing army. There are issues in addition to the slaughter of women and children that horrifies us all.

    There is no good argument that we all need our own personal nukes. However, re-enacting the largely ineffective (looks like) assault weapons ban won’t do much beyond making ill informed libruls feel good.

    I do not know the answers, but I am pretty sure that having a tantrum is not likely to lead to good ones.

  39. Skilly says:

    It seems the most effective weapon around here is a well penned argument. I can’t see lefty winning too many readers over with the baseless accusations and unsound logic. both Scribe and lefty are unable or unwilling to engage the issues. Claiming that the RPG’s are the result of rogue soldiers does not change the issue. Why are they (RPG’s) unlawful at all? Answer: they are dangerous and of marginal utility in urban setting. Americans seem now ready to say the same thing about assault weapons too.

    A most telling point is the inadequate response to the link at comment 38. Saul Cornell at the Daily Beast puts together an authoritative piece on the perversion of the 2nd amendment to the constitution. His point demonstrates that the second amendment was enacted to regulate firearms to prevent anarchy, and/or acts of treason. To argue that the 2nd amendment is to protect the first, is to make an unsupportable argument. There exists not a shred of historical support for this position. That is “bumber sticker logic.”

    My final point, if I have made any at all, is that this site is well written and well run. When a disagreement on positions is noted, it might serve both sides better to avoid name calling or labels the use of which tends to reflect more about the name caller than the subject. Let’s keep it civil and respectful for your own credibility’s sake.


  40. orionATL says:


    my, my, what a calm thoughtful fellow you are, lefty.

    where was all that concern you so blithely verbalize this am yesterday?

    you’re trying to pull a clever, im-oh-so-reasonable con, lefty.

    but you’re a day late and a dollar short on concern, krait.

  41. Gravguy says:

    “… However, re-enacting the largely ineffective (looks like) assault weapons ban won’t do much beyond making ill informed libruls feel good.”

    Funny, seems to have been effective in just about every other country in the world. Australia after Port Arthur comes to mind. Whether that event was a librul psyop as some believe or not, the resulting gun by back and regulation has apparently reduced gun violence significantly.

    Then again, there’s lead. Not bullets, but the lead-tetraethel that’s no longer in gasoline in most parts of the western world. The smart money is on THAT as the primary driver of decreased violence. The curves are a perfect match 23 years apart wherever in the world researchers have looked. Better than demographics, better than stop & frisk, etc. etc.

    Mass killings are the intersection of crazy and easy availablity of highly lethal weapons. There are all kinds of ways to decrease the size of the “crazy” circle on the venn diagram – like not stunting brain development with heavy metals. But really only one way to shrink the lethality bubble that I can see – do what the Aussies did.

  42. orionATL says:


    this is extremely interesting. i have a tiny memory of reading about the lead-in-gasoline and violence connection but would love to have a cite or just a resource base to check out.


  43. orionATL says:


    “… It may well be that we need to rethink the 2nd amendment, but to deny the original intent does not help the discussion. There is some opinion that it guarantees the 1st, and that is why it is where it is in the Bill of Rights…”

    i got news for you, lefty.

    the 2nd amendment was never intended or written to guarantee individual gun ownership – never!

    the idea that it was is, in our recent history, a concoction of right-wing think tanks.

    as the saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.

    futhermore, it’s clear from your repeatedly vague commentary that you know little about guns or gun laws, but like to leave your readers with the impression you do.

    another con, lefty.

  44. lefty665 says:

    Silly old me, so much for the idea that we might all come out in a better place if we reasoned together. Sorta thought that was what blogs like this were for. I would like to have a rational discussion where we all learn something. I am not trying to win people over. I am not a salesman for anything.

    Mao said that revolution comes out of the barrel of a gun. His did, as did ours. Remember that folks, our nation and our liberties are the fruit of revolution.


    (1) The concept of the 2nd amendment as an individual right is not recent. Blather to the contrary is bullshit.

    My grandparents generation was born in the 1880’s, served in WWI. They were Yankees, their parents and grandparents fought and won the war of succession. I can testify first hand that WWI generation was absolutely sure the right to keep and bear arms was individual and personal. They also maintained that their beliefs were handed down from their parents.

    My parents generation fought WWII and Korea. They also firmly believed the right was individual.

    (2) The (looks like) an assault weapon ban here in the US was hugely ineffective. I have never made an argument that there should be no regulation. Several of the arguments I see here are to the effect that we can re-enact the ban, declare victory, then go back to kvetching about FISA and NDAA. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is one definition of insanity.

    What scribe did (far better than I) was to provide factual context. It was a heads up, not a challenge to rumble. OrionADDLED’s frequent and increasingly loosely hinged postings and ad hominem attacks on scribe were what prompted me to give scribe an attaboy and to poke at ol’ ADDLED.

    (3) Does anyone here believe ADDLED’s comment to me “you are such a slithering, hissing, twisted little krait” furthers rational discussion about the 2nd amendment, or that it might be better if he did not have a gun?

    (4) Sandy Hook was just prior to the 3rd anniversary of a cruise missile strike in Yemen, apparently presidentially ordered, using cluster bombs that killed 21 children and 14 women.
    Where was all the angst over those deaths?
    Where were the demands to ban assaults like that and those weapons?
    Is it better for innocent deaths to be the result of insanity or collateral damage from USG policy?
    Does it make a difference to the dead women and children?

    We can immediately stop continuing civilian deaths in non war zones with an executive order. Anyone think that all this emotion and agitation might better be directed first to support presidential actions that will immediately stop innocent deaths all over the world, then go for domestic legislation to protect us from crazies? Or are deaths only important when they happen here? Isn’t that pretty much the attitude that has prevailed since 911? How has that worked so far for y’all?

  45. lefty665 says:

    @Gravguy: 23 years, interesting. Getting the lead out of gas was huge for several reasons. I worked downhill from the Ethyl HQ in Richmond long ago. They were seriously fat cats. Some of their follow on products were also nasty.

    Please look at ssri links too. The black box warnings on those are pretty scary. Curious that anti-depressants have suicide and high aggression as side effects. It looks like most of these loony shooters have been in treatment. Any bets the correlation between those meds and shooters is high?

    I would oppose the Aussie approach, but agree we’ve got to do something to separate crazies and weapons. Statistically it is hard to see much effect from the ’94 law. It is not zero, but it is not high. Reupping on the (looks like) an assault weapon ban is very high cost in time, effort, emotion and political capital for low effect. As we can see in this blog and elsewhere, there are a lot of aroused, horrified, well meaning but lightly informed folks on that bandwagon. But no matter how good it feels, feel good legislation is not much of a solution.

    Thanks for the thoughtful response and chance to talk.

  46. Gravguy says:

    1) I think you’re reaching more than just a little. I’m your age apparently, grew up in a hunting family and don’t remember anybody thinking about gun rights at all, much less whether it was an individual right or if it had a constitutional basis. Are you sure you’re not MSU?

    2) The devil is in the details. Most gun crimes aren’t committed with “assult weapons” so one shouldn’t expect a large drop in overall gun crime. The law did nothing to reduce the existing stockpiles, and gun makers quickly found enough loopholes to keep up with the (largely manufactured – thank you NRA and NSSF) demand. So it was a pretty toothless tiger. I think the Aussie experience demonstrates that it doesn’t have to be that way.

    3) I must say, the name calling here is more entertaining that most. You’ve apprently been called an “ARM-based CPU included in Snapdragon S4 systems on chips. – The successor to Qualcomm’s Scorpion”. Or… one of 12 obscure species of especially deadly S.E. Asian snakes. It would make MY day either way :-)

    4) Again I think you may be MSU. Most of the folks arguing for better gun control are arguing just as hard for a rational foreign policy. Looks that way to me at least.

  47. lefty665 says:


    (1) Reasonable take. It was not a big item of contention. The assumption was that that gun ownership rights were fundamental and inalienable.

    After WWII we got the reports that in most towns they occupied, the Nazis made their first stop Town Hall to get census and gun registration lists among other things. From there they went door to door disarming citizens by make, model and serial number, and picking up anyone the were unhappy with. I do remember as a kid conversations in that context to the effect “Nobody’s dam business what I have” (guns or anything else – sometimes not a lot), often followed by something like “What load do you like for groundhogs”.

    OTOH After JFK, nobody I knew bitched about shutting down mail order sales. The opportunity for favorable MSU does get easier the further away we get from the events.

    (2) Yep. I agree right up to your preferred solution. However, I believe there’s got to be a decent middle ground someplace between patty cake and confiscation. That’s the discussion I’ve been trying to have, likewise it seems, you, scribe and a few others.

    There was considerable testimony in ’94 to the effect,”You guys know you’re legislating cosmetics not function don’t you?” Some of it was from the NRA of all places (and that’s not MSU:). Did not make any difference in the legislation or much of any on the streets, as you note.

    I wouldn’t call a mfr picking a gun off the assembly line before it got to the flash suppressor workstation finding “loopholes”, more “obeying the law”. But that’s down into quibble territory. Almost universally the changes meant fewer pieces and less labor to manufacture. Colt made their civilian receivers hard to convert to full auto. Collect every damn full auto sear in the nation and I’ll help you melt them into ploughshares.

    Yep, it’s mostly handgun crime, and that for the most part gangs and suicides. From what I read, often the cops get to cross a couple of the usual suspects off their list when there’s an urban shooting. Then they wait, pens drawn, to cross off some more when the counter attack comes.

    Dunno what to do about hi capacity mags. Looks like there’s around 25m of them out there. That’s a big number (no insult intended, it gives me pause). Maybe restrict them and replace them with 100 round drums. Everything I’ve ever heard is that they’re the mag equivalent of cod pieces. They don’t work worth a damn because they jam early and often. Looks like that’s what happened in Colorado. Mag changes of any size are pretty quick if someone has practiced. Does capacity make a real difference (I do not know, that’s not a rhetorical question)? I will make an exception for the Glock 30 round pistol mag. Interchangable mags were a feature right up until that one, and it was designed for police and military full auto pistols. Does a local cop ever really need a full auto pistol?

    The “gun show loophole” is highly over hyped. It looks like the numbers are cooked from survey data from 1994 (referenced somewhere above I believe) that estimates all non FFL transfers. The raw number for gun shows was 4%, not 40% as has been floating around recently. It is my understanding that too many transactions (gun shows or other) without background checks attracts BATF attention as an “unregistered dealer”. One commenter noted that when they show up on someone’s doorstep they don’t have a sense of humor and are talking felonies.

    (3) And mine:) Usually find there’s a direct correlation between how badly I’ve caught orionATL out of school and the level of invective he spits at me. He agreed with me once. It scared the s*** out of me. I spent a couple of hours with the Google to make sure I wasn’t MSU. I wasn’t, but he never apologizes. Me, when I screw up I try to get out the mustard and ketchup to make the crow go down easier, chomp it on down and vow to find new and better mistakes to make next time.

    Thanks for the references, I always wanted to be a CPU. If you talk to orion, please tell him I’d like a richer instruction set, more cores, more L1,2,3 cache, faster clock, and a wider bus.

    Close as I can tell, an orionatl is a 3rd rate router (low rent cpu) – you’re old enough to remember the Amazing Rhythm Aces aren’t you?

    (4) Comes from the end of EW’s original post:

    “One other thing that makes no sense? The same people who railed against publishing gun permit information on Twitter immediately got silent when yesterdays debate on FISA started up.”

    I thought there was a little more in there originally. I may be MSU. I am afraid FISA, NDAA, et al make gun control small potatoes. Would that some of the emotion and energy went into those issues. Start working problems from the top down. Beef Hollow Rd. is the big kahuna.

    Again, thanks for the discussion. Makes it feel worthwhile. Happy New Year.

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