The Roanoke Times is the latest newspaper to discover that just because something can be done does not mean it should be done.
As reported by Michelle Malkin and others, the Times on March 11 ran an editorial titled "Shedding Light on Concealed Handguns" announcing that it was publishing a list of everyone in Virginia's New River Valley possessing a concealed carry permit.
This type of story has become a ritual event with second and third-tier news outlets across the country. Others who have published similar stories include the suburban New York Westchester-Rockland Journal News, the Argus Leader of South Dakota, the Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, and the NBC24 television station in Toledo, Ohio. All of these outfits act as if they're carrying out some sort of a public service, though none is clear as to precisely what that might be.
A close examination of the Roanoke Times piece might give us some idea. It is written (by Christian Trejbal, who by the look of him has never brushed up against a gun owner in his life) in a continuous "gotcha" tone featuring numerous asides about "gun toters", and "packing heat". Trejbal misstates the legal basis of the paper's action, in a manner that suggests he doesn't understand it: "There are good reasons" he says, "the records are open to public scrutiny." I'd be willing to bet that the statute actually allows something on the order of "public scrutiny on site", rather than actual publication. It's not at all clear from the text, because Trejbal doesn't grasp that there's a difference.
Nor does he reveal any understanding of why an individual might choose to carry a weapon or any other issues not pertaining to the rights of the press. He refuses to acknowledge that possessing a concealed carry permit does not necessarily mean that you're carrying a gun -- it merely means that you have that option. Surveys have long revealed that most permit holders don't, in fact, carry. He names several public officials who possess permits, apparently unaware that, well before the demise of JFK, officials have long been targeted by the demented, the embittered, and the vengeful. (Such officials, in fact, are virtually the only individuals granted carrying permits in New York City.) It's possible the light flicked on when one respondent, quoted in the paper's follow-up story, implied that she obtained her permit as protection from an obsessed ex-spouse: "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."
But Trejbal's most telling line was this one:
"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."
That's as carefully turned a sentence as you are ever likely to read. One that was clearly rewritten and pondered over, possibly with editorial consultation. Note that it does not say that gun owners are the same thing as sex offenders, or that they are comparable to sex offenders, or are in any way similar to sex offenders. But the message comes across all the same. Which is why it set off Michelle Malkin and any number of other readers. Perhaps realizing it was on thin ice, the Times later removed the database of gun owners from its site.
It also got me to thinking - I couldn't recall ever seeing a newspaper put up a list of sex offenders. So I took the time to run a search, and after a couple dozen pages, I couldn't find one. Which does not mean that it's never happened, only that they're not very thick on the ground. (I did find a couple of examples where papers provided links to state-operated lists -- like this one -- but that's not quite the same thing. Such lists are supposed to be publicized, after all.) But I found no end of articles arguing against any such thing. Articles with titles such as, "List of sex offenders: Handle with care", "No more sex offender registries Despite the rhetoric, they don't protect us", and "Why we don't tell you every time a sex offender moves to town". Articles taking the stance that it's unfair to publicize the names of molesters for any number of reasons: "They've got to live somewhere, right? Should we write stories that ultimately target and persecute people who have paid for their crimes?" (To be fair, the quoted story, published in a local Massachusetts paper called the Lancaster Times & Clinton Courier, was ambivalent. Most of them were anything but.)
So what does this tell us about the current state of the media? Nothing that we didn't know before -- but quite a lot concerning how deep it's gone.
Let's consider the thinking at work here. A level 3 sex offender is one of the most horrendous cxreatures on this earth. Offenders who started early and never stopped, who have molested multiple victims, whose crimes are often tinged with sadism and brutality. They are difficult to rehabilitate, and are highly apt to reoffend. They are a newly recognized phenomenon not yet widely understood, something along the lines of sociopathic killers during the period of the 60s. At that time the actual nature of the sadistic sociopath was not yet fully grasped and they were often released as "sane", only to murder again. Level 3 molesters are similar in that our system has not yet adjusted to their existence. They should probably not be released at all. Since they are, every conceivable effort must be made to identify, track, and control them.
Yet it's these same criminals that the media goes to all lengths to protect, making every conceivable hair-splitting argument to avoid publicizing their identities and locations, and in the process, abrogating one of the basic functions of a news outlet - the dissemination of information for purposes of public security and safety. Some of the arguments against publication may well hold water. Vigilantism and ostracism involving molesters have occurred. But none of this is the media's affair. As they never cease telling us, their job is to print it and sell it, not to consider how any of it will be used. A media that regularly, on those precise grounds, features overseas actions by Jihadis and their allies transparently designed to manipulate public opinion cannot justify changing the rules on behalf of domestic criminals.
And what of the gun owners? These are people who are, quite simply, exercising their constitutional rights to the fullest extent. Acting legally, rationally, and well within this country's tradition of acceptable behavior. Members of the media may not agree, they may deplore the fact, they may wish to see the practice changed. But not by victimizing gun owners, attempting to pillory them before the public, or putting them in potential danger. (It's distinctly possible that a recent burglary of a large number of weapons in Toledo, Ohio was instigated by a report carried by NBC24.)
We know the point of these stories: these people are dangerous. They carry around guns. They should be stopped. Do you know any of them? Do you live nearby? Then watch your step! No telling what they'll do... Maybe you should contact your congressman, tell him to do something...
And how does this differ from the way the media treats sexual criminals? The question answers itself.
What it comes down to is that molesters, as criminals and sexual deviants, are a protected class. Gun owners, particularly those with concealed carry permits, are merely citizens, and thus fair game.
This is yet more evidence (if any were needed) that the media is operating at complete variance from the society it supposedly serves. The fact that the Roanoke Times backed down is a good sign, as is the proposed Ohio legislation designed to prevent future such revelations. (Ohio's current law actually allows journalists access to such lists while prohibiting regular citizens. Consider the ramifications of that for a moment.) But the general picture is of a schism between ordinary Americans and the legacy media that is unlikely ever to be bridged.
J.R. Dunn is a consulting editor of American Thinker.