If you want to understand the disconnect between pro-gun and anti-gun forces in the United States, look no further than the controversy over publishing the names and addresses of New Yorkers with permits to own guns.
Last month, The Journal News published the names and addresses of 44,000 permitted gun owners in two Hudson Valley counties. This week, Gawker.com put up the names of gun permit holders in the five boroughs.
The result has been a raging controversy over whether publicizing such information is appropriate or wise. Journalists have been threatened and had their own personal information posted online.
But lost in the debate is a large truth: These expositions of information, intended to provide lists and maps of the guns and owners who might endanger us, did the opposite. They pinpoint the guns and people that mostly aren’t going to be involved in crimes.
Experts say that in New York, as many as 80 percent of guns used in crimes are illegal weapons, often purchased out of state and certainly never registered.
It’s not possible to provide readers with information on the weapons and weapon owners they really need to look out for, because those owners don’t follow the law and apply for permits for their weapons.
The thug and gun that are going to terrorize you in your home? The Magnum .357 and monster that are going to catch your child in the crossfire of a drug dispute? Not on the lists. And if the cretin planning to rain down terror in a crowded, public place and his assault weapon are on the lists, what of it? Will that tell you which theater or shopping mall to avoid, what day to keep your kid out of school? No. It won’t.
The people we need to be worried about mostly don’t sweat gun laws. They buy their weapons on the street and from corrupt and criminal dealers. They steal guns or purchase them from those who did. They do not register their weapons or submit to background checks or pay attention to legal limits on clip size.
The 4 million National Rifle Association members who hunt and target shoot and sit in their breakfast nooks writing out their annual checks for dues, mostly aren’t criminals, and they know their pals aren’t either. These are the people who actually take classes on gun safety, who invest the time to make sure their kids know how to handle weapons properly, who take the dangers of guns seriously.
There are steps we must take to reduce gun violence. We need federal laws requiring devilishly strict background checks for every gun purchase. State laws don’t really work, as guns are just purchased in the lax states and migrate to the strict ones, like New York. We need crushing penalties for illegal gun possession and any crime involving a gun.
In the end, if you want to stop gun crime, you’re going to have to stop criminals who use guns. Hassling law-abiding folks won’t help.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.