Local Spin: Killing Monsters
A newspaper hires armed guards over a lame story.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
Here’s a question: Just because you can do something, should you?
It’s been on my mind for days, and at the base of it is the mass killing of 6 – and 7-year-old children in their Connecticut classroom and the raging debate it’s created about gun control, the Second Amendment and, most recently, the First Amendment as well. But it’s also been pushed along by the normal end-of-the-year ruminations about what directions the Weekly should take in 2013; and, oh yeah, if the idea of buying my husband a shotgun for Christmas was a bad one.
In reverse order:
In mid-October, Weekly photographer Nic Coury and I had a meeting with Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillan to talk about a number of things, including handgun traceability and the relationship between burglaries and the movement of stolen weapons. I mentioned to the chief that my husband and I were thinking about buying a weapon to keep in the house. I had some reservations, I admitted, because while I support the Second Amendment (at least in theory), I have teenage sons – and two teenage boys combined have even less common sense than a single one. But it would be fine: My husband is a military veteran and knows how to handle firearms.
McMillan’s reaction was immediate and a little surprising. He said, in essence, you don’t need a gun. Nobody needs a gun for home protection. “Why would you want one in your house?” was his challenge. It’s more likely to get stolen and end up on the street, or be even used against you in your own home, he said; you only need a strong lock and a phone to dial 911.
“HEY CRIMINALS, CHECK OUT THIS COOL MAP OF WHICH HOUSES YOU CAN ROB.”
(While the concept of calling 911 is a good one, McMillan marginalized that idea just a few weeks later. I ran into him at an event and told him that just days before, my kid and his girlfriend had been sitting at the dining room table in the late afternoon, carving pumpkins. They heard the door open and close and looked up to find a meth-head standing in the dining room. He/she/it – they couldn’t determine the intruder’s gender due to a shaved head, baggy clothes and a plethora of neck tattoos – left without incident. McMillan said had my son called 911, who knows how long it would have taken to send a car. Yikes.)
Still, I had McMillan’s don’t-get-a-gun advice in my head when Christmas came. Santa did not bring a Mossberg 500, and probably won’t while there are kids living in the house, and probably not until I go through some serious training on how to handle a weapon.
And even if all that happens, do I really want some asshole newspaper to find out that I’ve obtained a permit and print that information, along with my home address? (Hey criminals – check out this really cool interactive map of which houses you can rob. Oh sure, you run the risk of getting shot in the process, but if you get away with it, you get the weapons!)
Such is the case at the Journal News, a Gannett-owned paper in White Plains, N.Y. On Dec. 24, the paper printed a map of all handgun-permit holders in the area along with an article titled, “The gun owner next door: What you don’t know about the weapons in your neighborhood.”
Why did they do it? In essence, because they could. As the editor put it, “We felt sharing information about gun ownership in our area was important.” But other than a map and a superficial story, there was no depth. When you lack the context of who owns what and why, you’re just doing it because you can.
The response was swift and ugly: a local real estate broker turned around and published the names, home addresses, home phone numbers and other information (including family pictures culled from Facebook and other social media) of every single employee of that paper. Why did he do it? Because he could.
And in a deeply ironic move, that paper has now turned around and hired armed guards: In a police report, officials from the paper say they were alarmed by the volume of negative correspondence.
The Weekly has published the list of Monterey County citizens who hold concealed-carry permits – people who are not law enforcement but who have the right to carry a weapon. In the past, it’s been a highly politicized process, with former sheriffs giving permits to well-placed friends. We’re going to publish that list again, and not just because we can, but because it’s worth a deeper look at what should be the difficult process of obtaining that permit. Has the process gotten more difficult under Sheriff Scott Miller? Do concealed-carry holders really feel more safe? And about those response times…
Call 2013 our own Year of the Gun, because we’re going to be talking about it a lot.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at twitter.com/maryrduan