Thursday, December 27, 2012
Newspaper posts names and addresses of gun owners
by Clifford F. Thies A New York newspaper has published the name and address of all registered gun owners in the counties of Rockland and Westchester, just north of New York City. Click on the following link and then click on any of the dots on the maps to get this information: www.lohud.com My first reaction is that the publication of gun permit holders violates the right of privacy. As codified by the European Convention on Human Rights, "Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence." Wouldn't this right to privacy include being a gun owner? The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution appears to only provide a qualified right of privacy. It is a protection of the right of the people "against unreasonable searches and seizures." "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." To be sure, nowadays, warrants are written so broadly as to make a mockery of this amendment. However, narrowing of the 4th Amendment to searches and seizures is incorrect. The language of this amendment, like the language of the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, speaks to a pre-existing right, "the" right to be secure. Well before the formation of the United States, the right to be secure in one's home became embodied in English common law. A man's home was his "castle," everyman being a king, if you were, within his home, and exercises sovereignty within that place. To be sure, the state could intervene into that private place in order to enforce the law and the amendment speaks to the balancing of the right to be secure in one's home against the duty of the state to enforce the law. During the late colonial period, "general warrants" were being issued, by which soldiers would enter homes and search for contraband, to which the colonial legislatures objected. The same doctrine of original intent that was recently invoked by the Supreme Court in defense of an individual right of gun ownership should attach to the Fourth Amendment. That is, what is "the" right to be secure; just as, what is "the" right to keep and bear arms? What, indeed, is the state interest in knowing who has "a right" to own a gun, or who actually owns a gun, since everyone is presumed to has a right to own a gun subject to reasonable regulations, according to the Supreme Court? To play devil's advocate, the state interest in granting permits to guns and in keeping a registry of guns is to protect the community from the illegal use of guns. Because of the hazard of irreparable harm posed by guns, the interest of the state in protecting the community, combined with confidentiality, tilts the balance in favor of the permitting of gun ownership and gun registration. But, what if confidentiality cannot be secured, because of the possibility of computer hacking? Where does that balance lie? As libertarians, we rely on the Fourth Amendment for the protection of privacy even though its language is a bit archaic and requires knowledge of the historical circumstances at the time of its adoption. However, a right to privacy is, nowadays, generally embraced by democratic countries and so it should be embraced here. But, now that the cat is out of the bag with respect to gun owners in Rockland and Westchester counties, we think some good will come out of it. While the list remains current, criminals will have no problem figuring out which residents are without self-protection. No longer will the unknown location of the true militia of those counties serve to protect everybody. To those who depend only on the police for their protection, we say good luck! You're now in the same boat as the children of the community when they are in gun-free schools.