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Journalists’ Addresses Posted In Revenge For Posting Of Gun Permit Owners (techcrunch.com)
64 points by emeraldd 1668 days ago | hide | past | web | 88 comments | favorite

That some random individual with a blog can harvest the addresses of every single registered gun owner with a freedom of information request is thought provoking to me.

In the past, I had vague fears about what such lists could be used for, but my fears were always aimed toward the group that held civil control. Now I am struck with how easy it is for the $FANATICAL_CAUSE down the street to obtain such a list. Such freedom of information is dangerous.

This inability for a government to avoid releasing large databases full of dangerous information to random people is frightening.

Is this the way the world is heading? If so, I have some business ideas I need to start working on.

Let me use the freedom of information act to obtain the database that maps license plates to names and addresses. Next time you accidentally cut somebody off in traffic, expect him to be waiting at your house when you get home, after visiting my website. Maybe he's already had a little visit with your family while he was waiting.

Let me use the the freedom of information act to obtain the tax returns of every person in an area. We'll publish how much you make, where you work, and the names and ages of your children, so anybody who might be interested in such things can visit my website to do searches. After all, information should be free, right?

The only thing that scares me more than my government having complete and total knowledge of my life, is for it to be accessible by any lunatic with a computer. That was a worry I didn't even have when I woke up this morning.

Personally, I rather take my chances with the $FANATICAL_CAUSE and have a system in place where I'm able to get data about my government and to ensure proper behavior on their end.

"Let me use the freedom of information act to obtain the database that maps license plates to names and addresses. Next time you accidentally cut somebody off in traffic, expect him to be waiting at your house when you get home, after visiting my website. Maybe he's already had a little visit with your family while he was waiting."

If this person truly wanted to harm me if I cut them off, then they could already do that. By following me to my house and getting me there. Or how about this scenario. My hubcap falls off while driving and the person behind me pulls over and picks it up. I had a vanity plate that the driver noticed and so they go to your website find my address and then drop off my hubcap to my house. When I get home from work, I'm happily surprised and pop that sucker right back on the car. Both scenarios would be possible because of that list on the website. However, one is much more favorable than the other. It isn't the list that is bad, it is the intentions of the people using it. Those people who are going to use such a list for nefarious uses are most likely going to behave in the same way with or without the list.

    > Let me use the the freedom of information act to obtain the tax returns of every person in an area. 
This is done in several Scandinavian countries seemingly without much ill effect: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/2008-06-18-salarie...

It sounds to me like this information was intended to be public and disseminated to interested parties (researchers, critics, etc). From the article: "Gun permit holding is public information in New York, and can be acquired through a mere request via the Freedom of Information Act."

So I think your example of DMV registrations or tax returns being obtained through a freedom of information act is a bit of a stretch because the DMV has explicitly stated on the myriad forms I've signed that they will only ever share your information with the court when required. Or in the case of a DUI they will also sell your information to ambulance chasing lawyers (personal experience).

Tax data is protected by Federal law and regulation. It's pretty secure.

DMV data, on the other hand, is for sale in most states, and is exchanged with other states and in some cases Canadian provincial entities as well. Telemarketers, marketing firms, etc all buy your personal information and registration data from the DMV, often getting it in near real time.

This is good to know. Out of curiosity do you have any experience with these sorts of agreements with state DMV's? Any more info?

About 35 years ago, someone acquired a list of all persons with a concealed carry license in New York City, and published it in a newspaper or magazine. It created a nine-days wonder and as far as I know has been forgotten ever since.

Lists don't harm people. People harm people.

IMO, there's not much difference between government employees and arbitrary members of the general public.

It's a safe assumption that if the government is collecting personal information then random strangers will have access to it.

Depends on what you call a difference. The nice lady at the DMV, or the IRS or the county assessor's office will likely know far more about you than you ever will about her because of access to data. A lot of that data is not publicly available.

What I mean is the people at the DMV, IRS, and county assessors are total strangers and have no connection to me. Giving them access to my information, publicly available or not, is no different than handing it out to any arbitrary members of the public.

I have no reason to trust them any more than I trust anybody else. Saying, "They won't misuse the data because it's their job not to," is as comforting as "Nobody will misuse the data because it would be illegal."

I think the difference is more that with FOIA-style public lists, that people who will misuse your data can look you up directly, whereas the clerk at the DMV actually is a total stranger who if anything cares about you personally even less than a total stranger might.

$FANATICAL_CAUSE without guns? I'm not too worried about that.

Because it's unheard of for fanatics to use, say, bombs?

I don't currently own any guns and have none registered to my name, but if gun owners were labelled similarly to sex offenders on a publicly searchable map like in the article, I would go out of my way to get put on that map. I don't shy from a gun; I hunt and target shoot using my family and friends' guns. I just don't own any due to not having a reasonable case for owning one in my current living situation (I have roommates).

What purpose would that map serve? The only thing I can think of is your easily-offended neighbors would avoid you and your house. Good. If you're going to get up in arms (so to speak) about private and legal gun ownership and knowing that I own a gun is going to change your opinion of me for the worse, I'd like to know that before I invest significant time into building a relationship with you as my neighbor. If you're going to assume I'm a criminal just because I own a gun, I want nothing to do with you. Another benefit I could see from this type of map is a convenient listing of addresses that burglars may tend to shy away from. No one wants to rob a house and find a gun in their face if there is a house right next door without weaponry.

Do I want this information presented in this way? Not particularly. There's not much benefit to the average person in knowing where legally registered guns are kept, and potentially negative consequences if the neighborhood kids now know that your house has guns they could get a hold of.

I strongly disagree with the intentions of the journalists in this case, and applaud the lawyer for his response in a vigilante justice sort of way.

What purpose would that map serve? The only thing I can think of is your easily-offended neighbors would avoid you and your house.

I can think of a few other potential side effects:

1) Problems for your kids. "No, you can't go and play at Timothy's house, his parents have a gun".

2) Making your house a target for people who want to steal your guns.

3) Potentially being discovered and held against you by employers.

Making your house a target for people who want to steal your guns.

For some people it's a list of gun owner households... for some robbers however it might be a list of homes without guns :P

The reasoning here is that a stolen-but-legally-obtained-and-registered-by-someone-else gun is worth an awful lot on the black market. It's effectively untraceable once it's stolen, meaning that crimes committed with it are much harder to pin on the perpetrator.

One could probably trivially combine the gun ownership data with publicly available property value data to pick targets for robbery.

You could further enhance it with proxies for use of security systems such as 911 calls (can one FOIA a list of all 911 calls?), but with the software industry as it is anyone going to all this trouble could probably make a better return by getting a job or just doing freelance dev work.

I thought that calls to 911 from security systems didn't happen directly. As I understand it, if a system is tripped, the security system's call center calls you, and in certain circumstances, would then call 911 on your behalf but not necessarily from your house.

Thats typically correct. My thought was that if you knew what numbers security monitoring companies would call from, you could filter out those calls, then extract the addresses they reported incidents at. Of course the monitoring company will filter out a lot of false alarms, so you'll get less data points to work from, so like I say... I'm not sure it would be worth it.

#2 isn't a likely example simply because life doesn't work out that way. The people who steal a gun is usually from someone they know.

#3 is possible but, with what has happened so far, conservative bosses have threatened to decline their workforce if Obama won the election. Nothing has been shown to the opposite.

The people who steal a gun is usually from someone they know... has a gun.

The people who steal guns have never before had an easy menu from which to choose.

Many gun thefts are crimes of opportunity/passion like you say, but not all. Most violent offenders don't steal the guns they use to commit crimes they buy them from the black market. Promoting a black market opportunity is a very dumb policy.

An old (circa 1997) U.S. Department of Justice survey of prison inmates possessing a firearm during the offense that put them in jail showed that only 14% bought their gun from a retail store, pawn shop, flea market, or gun show. 40% acquired their firearms from family or friends. [0] The remainder were stolen or purchased on the black market. I can't say whether recent trends are any different, it's not my area of interest anymore.

The FBI compiles data on the theft of guns through the Stolen Gun File of the NCIC database [1]. I haven't had access in a long time but when I was doing research many years ago I found that between 1992 and 2002, around 1.7 million firearms were taken, representing a rate of 16.8 stolen firearms for every one thousand households. Of those stolen weapons, 687,857 were later recovered by authorities or by "guns for x" amnesty turn-in programs as of 2002. So that means more than one million of those stolen firearms were unaccounted for as of 2002.

[0]: Caroline Wolf Harlow, Firearm Use by Offenders, Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2001 (sorry no link available that I know of)

[1]: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ncic/ncic_files

What if the data in question regarding #3 was not a database of weapon permits but say a database of marijuana licenses or tax stamps which seems an almost inevitable conclusion of current political trends? Ok with your employer knowing about your legal possession and use of a now legal substance?

On the flip side as a startup founder making important key first hiring decisions would you want to know about a candidates legal drug use?

What about Scott Eckern, the Sacramento theatre director who made a donation in support of California's Proposition 8?

I'd be wary of suggesting people of only one political viewpoint behave badly, since we don't know what issue will be the lightning rod in the future. Recording and sharing less information protects all of us.

> 3) Potentially being discovered and held against you by employers.

Interesting, I just realized that political viewpoints is not necessarily a protected class [1]. Presumably owning a gun is sort of a political view. Can an employer technically discriminate against such people? It feels like a class action law suit waiting to happen so I am guessing there is a law out there that gets violated.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protected_class

You can fire someone for owning a gun in most states. Gun owners aren't a protected class except for Missouri where a law was recently passed to make them one, despite no known cases of someone firing an employee for gun ownership. Interestingly, LGBT individuals aren't a protected class in Missouri, despite many cases of firing employees for being an LGBT individual.

The libertarian in me feels that gun ownership or the lack thereof shouldn't be any business of my employer. I am however more offended that what a person does in their bedroom is not protected by Federal Law.

I can imagine making political viewpoint a protected class could have immediate negative ramifications on politicians, making it unlikely that political viewpoint will ever become a protected class.

Unless maybe corporations set up to run campaigns could somehow be excluded from this perhaps?

The issue with posting the maps is that it can put people at risk.

If you're a bad guy, you can use this sort of information to find victims. Get a list of people with guns and cross-reference it with professions where the cash-based nature of the business makes it likely that folks have unreported money that can't be deposited in the bank. People who own laundries, tradesmen, jewelers, etc.

This sort of thing happened in my town in the 80's. Someone broke into a locksmith shop and took records of safe installations and re-keying. There were a number of subsequent burglaries of home safes owned by people with jewelry industry ties that went unreported until someone was assaulted when they interrupted a robbery.

This is especially an issue in a NYC or other places where handgun registration is a really onerous process. If you made a FOIL request and also asked for the type of handgun permit (target, carry, concealed carry, etc), it would be an even bigger personal safety risk.

I am not supporting the publishing of either set of information. So this is Devil's advocate a little. The only benefit I can see from publishing the original list would be that as a neighbor it might be nice to know if your neighbor's owned guns. Why? Well, if they also displayed disturbing behavior it might be good to have that as context. To dramatically simplify - perhaps it would be nice to have some additional context to put around the house down the street or across the way where there is ongoing issues of domestic violence/mental illness or disturbing behavior.

One of the most disappointing elements of Newton was that the family understood that their child had severe behavioural issues and also kept the means for massive destruction within the house. Perhaps a third party could have encouraged the removal or one or the other when witnessing the anti social behaviour.

Lastly, however flawed, the newspaper did present a logic of "common public good" while the response was purely vindicative/vengeance. It's worth noting.

>it might be good to have that as context

But is this really a matter of something your neighbors need to know? Unless the person is acting irrationally, recklessly, or endangering others right in front of you, whether or not they have a gun is not more important than knowing if they have a lead pipe, a car, or a can of gas and a match. Whether or not someone has a gun in their house doesn't matter nearly as much as if they had one in their pocket.

Where it really comes through is that the police know. If the person is acting in a manner that makes you fear for you life enough to question if they own a gun, that's the point where you step out of their lives and let the police step in. I would rather not have my neighbors call the police saying "freehunter is acting odd and he has a gun!" unless I'm currently holding that gun in my hand.

Maybe instead of a map showing where gun owners live, we should have a map showing where mentally unstable people live. They're potentially dangerous with or without a firearm. A gun always needs someone to pull the trigger, a person doesn't need weapons to cause harm.

>it might be nice to know if your neighbor's owned guns

I'm sure it's nice to know for robbers as well if they knew you didn't have one. The info was always available but now the ones who don't make an honest living know this.

This "robber" argument is incredibly FUD'ish and worth thinking through further. When we talk about gun ownership, robbers and guns we're usually discussing the fear of getting shot by a burgular. Getting robbed sucks but most of us have insurance and all of us agree it pales in comparison to getting shot.

So let's think this through:

- If a robber is robbing my house, and is armed, and we accidentally confront each other, which is my preferred state of mind? Which outcome is most likely to result in me not being shot? a) Robber believes me to not be carrying any gun per this map? b) Robber believes me to be carrying a gun (per this map?) c) Robber has no access to this information so has to assume there's a 50/50 chance I'm packing heat?

Therefore the greatest risk, if any really comes from this map, is probably the identified gun owner vs the identified non gun owner should the robber (incorrectly) conclude the gun owner is away and the non gun owner is home and needing to quickly steal electronics for instant cash to buy illegal drugs.

It is not FUD. If someone wants to steal a gun they now have a list of soft targets from which to choose.

It reminds me of the furor that erupted when someone used 4square and twitter APIs to create a map of homes for which the owner was traveling. Wasn't it calked rob me or something?

In that case API access was terminated because the use violated the terms of service. Creating a map to promote breakins isn't something twitter or 4square does. I can see researchers or auditors having a valid use case for obtaining a list of weapons permits but a journalist/activist who just wants to disrupt the peace? Pretty dumb decision by the local authority or more probably one motivated by the politics of some local bureaucrat wanting to "make a difference" and abusing their authority.

Yes and I'm old enough to remember when a small but vocal % of people refused to put out automated out of office email replies because who knew who would receive them (anyone who emailed you) and what they could do to you knowing that you were away. Seems funny now but people at the time were certain it was a ticket to be robbed or worse.

I think the site was http://pleaserobme.com/

It was a perfect example of TMI on the internet, but the difference I think was that people intentionally posted this information, whereas everyone listed by the paper had no choice.

If I'm planning to burglarize a home, and I know that a given house has armed inhabitants, I'll probably rob the neighbors.

(Of course, if my goal is to steal an untraceable gun for later use in a crime, this map would come in very handy...)

Many home burglaries involve drug addicts who need immediate access to cash. So for those they'll first look for the empty home and then back into what to expect should they meet someone from there.

Would a robber actually take this information into account?

As I understand it, most prefer to do their thieving when there is nobody home, anyway.

It may be most who do it when the family is not home but not all. A story came to mind a couple of years ago where a family was murdered in Penn. during a robbery. Most families are always home in some form and some thieves have short patience when it comes to what they want. An intelligent thief would use this information like this to their advantage.

The most famous story is of the Clutter family written about by Truman Capote. I'm not sure if they had a gun but the family was home and were intended to be murdered at the time of the robbery.

> To dramatically simplify - perhaps it would be nice to have some additional context to put around the house down the street or across the way where there is ongoing issues of domestic violence/mental illness or disturbing behavior.

This map only has legal guns, so it could potentially provide a false sense of safety. Best to just assume and act as though they do have a gun.

I would hate to see a neighbor take a domestic violence situation less seriously because the internet says there isn't a gun involved.

Adam Lanza had zero history of violent behavior, and certainly didn't do anything like threaten to kill people with guns. There was no way to foresee that he was going to behave like this, which makes this even more tragic.

"What purpose would that map serve?"

You may not be hired, promoted, graduated, permitted to enter, permitted to buy, etc., ... because you have a registered firearm. Consider what HMOs, insurance companies, organizations, and governments have to say about gun ownership and you'll find your answer there.

I may have worded it in a slightly confusing manner. What I meant there is "what good would come from this map? Your whiny neighbors leave you alone and burglars may avoid you" then I meant to spell out the more negative side effects of such a map.

Stuff like this pretty much confirms the NRA's fears about gun registration. It didn't immediately result in gun confiscation or anything, but yeah--it's just used for registration today, but tomorrow it's used against you.

The downside is you get embarrassed when someone makes a map. That's the NRA fear. (Edit: that's WHAT the NRA fear)

Similar downside for...driver's licenses, passports, political contributions, subscriptions to magazines or any other database where it is useful to have records of who does what.

I don't like this but I don't understand how this deals with "NRA fear." Many NRA members are proud they have a gun. Like anyone else, they are eager to tell or show why like them.

It's like the google real name debate in reverse. Some people are proud to identify with a group, so therefore we should out everybody, right?

When concealed-carry permit addresses were published by a journalist in our town in 2007, people who had fled abusive relationships were immediately forced to move.


Transparent government is a net positive, but as with everything, we have to be careful with the consequences of our actions.

Personally, I think that this has less to do with having a transparent than it does with personal privacy. I think that the latter trumps the former. Government is supposed to be open because everybody funds it through taxes. A private individual should have the freedom to remain private if they so choose.

I live in Utah, where most people own guns and a large group, myself included, have concealed carry permits. All interactions with strangers happen in that context, and we do ok. We've had some shootings. They're s seen as a reminder that individuals should carry more, not less.

"An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life."

-- Robert A. Heinlein


I've heard this quote a lot. Carrying a loaded weapon is a MASSIVE responsibility. It's really scary at first, but you can learn to do it effectively and safely with enough training. The training is critical.

A responsibility I'm not sure all (even law-abiding) adults are capable of handling.


Customer complains about Pizza taking too long. Gets in verbal altercation with armed gentleman. Result: shots fired. Thankfully no deaths.

Surely not all adults are capable of handling the responsibility of several things; debt, firearms, a vehicle, alcohol etc. I don't want to live in a place where this is a justification for anything.

An armed society is a scared society. If you think fear is better than freedom, I'm very sorry for you.

Thought experiment: a customer comes to your office to talk about your product. He's wearing a gun on his belt, and no uniform. Are you more or less comfortable telling him that you won't implement the feature that he says he wants?

Does not have to be about fear, can be about respect. Can also be about less fear (the gun being a great equalizer): for example, a frail person can be less afraid of punks.

As far as your example, I am not quite sure what to make of it. Does not even sound like a good joke, sorry.

Said the man who was a fierce proponent of the Vietnam war without setting foot there.

The main argument, and a silly one, summarizing the outrage about the map is "now criminals can find guns to steal".

This is very silly -- there are plenty of maps to use to find banks, gun stores, gasoline, fertilizer...or rich people's homes.

"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."

"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.""


The inverse of the list is a collection of targets that are "safe" to invade.

Edit: added quotes. Some criminal will certainly, without thinking, decide these are safe targets. And statistically speaking, they'd probably be right more often than not. At the least, it's a great list of targets to avoid if you're planning to loot a neighborhood.

Not safe. They just don't have a registered gun. They have knives, security systems, gates, locks, police driving by.

And the ones with guns may well be easy to invade. It happened to the mom of that killer last week.

It's not a good argument but the gun fans do make it repeatedly.

Registration is generally not required for a shotgun, which is what is commonly recommended for home invasion defense. While there is certainly going to be an overlap between owners of registered handguns and owners of unregistered shotguns, "house is not on the map, no guns to worry about in there" is a false assumption.

Who recommends a shotgun for home defense? Its a poor choice as it is less maneuverable, ranges are very short and gives the attacker a lot of leverage to pull it away from you. Of course, people selling shotguns might recommend them...

The primary line of reasoning is that a buckshot shell is going to pack more force than a handgun (12-gauge #00 buckshot is 1.2k-3k ft/lbs of force spread out over 9 pellets, depending on the shell and weapon versus ~500 ft/lbs of force from a .40 handgun round), but because it's spread out over multiple pellets, it will be more easily stopped or slowed by walls or other obstructions, reducing the chances of a round penetrating a wall and harming a bystander. Additionally, a shotgun requires far less precise aiming to operate effectively, specifically because of the physics of it being a short-range weapon. Since most people don't have training in precisely aiming and firing guns in high-stress situations, a weapon that requires less precision to use effectively is going to be much more useful if you ever did find yourself in a situation that you needed to use it.

A shorter barrel would obviously be more maneuverable, but shotguns must have a minimum barrel length of 18" by law, specifically in order to prevent them from being easily concealed.

Try shooting a shotgun at the distance you would indoors and you will be surprised I think. The pellets only spread out about 1" per 3-5 ft. Shooting across a room and hitting something is still going to require some precision.

Funny story; when I was in the Army we had shortened Remington 870s used for breaching. One of my friends was trying to convince everyone that the "shorty" would be ineffective when used in a hanger because of the potential distance between target and assaulter. Another friend offered to help test the theory out by being the one behind the shotgun. It turns out that the shotgun doesn't do much when shortened but there is a strong physical reaction that occurs when someone fires one in your direction.

"Where local laws permit possession and such use is legally sanctioned, pump-action and semi-automatic riot shotguns in common law enforcement may also be available on the civilian market,[citation needed] and such shotguns are a very popular means of home defense for many of the same reasons they are preferred for close-quarters tasks in law enforcement and the military."

Merits of the recommendation aside, it is a very common recommendation made by many, not merely shotgun dealers.

There is a popular school of thought that suggests a shotgun does not need to be fired or even seen to be an effective home defense.

"Home invasion defense" sounds like the basest from of scaremongering I can imagine. What is the actual incidence of "home invasion"? Does it even exceed the incidence of firearms accidents and domestic assault with firearms? There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of better things waste your time and money worrying about, and most of the "solutions" to those don't put your family at risk.

How is this in any way related to the fact that unregistered shotguns may be present in the homes not marked as having gun owners on this map?

The security at Banks and Gun Stores at least, is significantly higher than that of a personal residence, so, it's NOT that silly.

The main argument is that "outing" people in a collective way, as though they are 'sex offenders'( per the text ) is absurd and offensive.

or, perhaps, they'll make sure a house DOESN'T have a gun before they decide to rob it.

The comments on the TC piece are quite disturbing, even by Internet comment standards.

Seriously. What the heck happened to TC? It was never the high point of debate on the web but it's struggling to rank much above local trashy mag comments. And so much for the quality improvement we'd receive when people had to use their real identities. Is the problem AOL piping a lot of traffic into their stories?

I saw this coming from a mile away as soon as I saw the map go up yesterday. I think the real debate is mental health and deeper checks on those who are at higher risk of violence in the mental health community. The stigma also needs to be removed from our culture of such diseases so we as a culture can move beyond the gun debate and concentrate on those who lash out with violence. As a gun owner, I am both for stricter controls but its obvious that gun control only affects those who are legally looking to buy guns .. not the violent offenders in our culture.

If we're going to play like kids anyways, then I think more interesting would be a map showing journalists with gun permits.

The thing that bothers me most is that people's addresses are a matter of public record, period. It's one thing to know someone has a gun license, or donated money to a political candidate, or owns a domain name.

It's another thing to reveal where they live. Sometimes people move for a good reason, and don't want someone else to be able to find them. (Abuse cases, etc.)

Other countries solve this by having ID numbers -- American SSN's are the closest. Those can be used in official documents, etc. Whereas in the US, domain names and other licenses are assigned to someone with a particular name, at a particular address, since SSN's aren't supposed to be used as general-purpose ID numbers, and what other option do you have?

Can I get added to the list of gun owners please?

Make a note that I am an expert marksman and I shoot to kill.

Also, please add that I don't own anything worth trading your life for.

The fact that you get excited about killing another human shows you are not qualified to own a gun.

Actually, it does not.

Hi, internet tough guy!

I'm not a marksman, nor do I own a gun. Criminals should believe that I do so they will rob/rape/kill someone else instead of me.

err... eye for an eye, leaves the whole world blind, Anyone remembers that?

this exposes both groups to a lot of risk, really a bad call I would say. A criminal can use the info to take revenge on a media personnel, or rob/hurt/murder/rape someone without a gun.

"err... eye for an eye, leaves the whole world blind, Anyone remembers that?"

It seems people have taken on a more Parker Brothers attitude: "Sorry! You get me I get you back".

"A criminal can use the info to take revenge on a media personnel, or rob/hurt/murder/rape someone without a gun."

Just because somebody isn't on that map doesn't mean they don't have a gun. All it means is that they just don't legally own a gun.

Well, fear probably increases gun ownership, so not a bad move from the pro-gun side...

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

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