Media Matters

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

A story of guns, privacy, and the press in Arkansas.

By 3.5.09

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Of all the groups to disturb, one might leave the Arkansas gun crowd to themselves. After all, they produced Mike Huckabee -- remember that bad joke he quipped about Obama ducking from a gun? The Arkansas Rifle and Pistol Association is the NRA-recognized state affiliate and they have a solid membership, hovering around 32,000 folks. Still, Max Brantley, the editor of the Arkansas Times decided he was up for the challenge a few weeks ago and riled a few gun-owners while raising some questions about the local legislature's role in private life.

Immediately following Valentine's Day, Brantley decided to forgo writing any creative sonnets and copied a stunt a Memphis publication had recently pulled. Apparently a few weeks ago, they published the list of the Tennessee Concealed Carry holders on their web site, resulting in half a million hits. Armed, I'm sure and quite possibly giddy with the knowledge of the popularity of guns in his state, Brantley published the entire list of those in Arkansas who carry a gun under the Concealed Carry Permit, in an Xcel file on the papers' blog.

The list included names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone who has the permit and was left up for several days. Brantley wrote: "Have fun searching for your friends. But I've checked this much: The current governor and the current congressional delegation are not in possession of concealed carry permits. The Huckabees, Janet and Mike, are armed." After receiving thousands of complaints -- and of course, threats -- he cowered under the voice of the people and took it down.

Brantley has since defended his post and argued the information was public record and that he, as a journalist and editor of the Arkansas Times, and his post was protected by the freedom of the press. While this is true in theory, in practice, it doesn't reveal good judgment or demonstrate solid journalistic practices. Brantley told a local radio station his motive was pure and simple. "I think we need to know who among us is walking around with a gun." Skewed logic and motive aside -- guns don't kill people, etc. -- freedom of the press might have saved Brantley's post if it was only clear what piece of investigative reporting he was trying to uncover.

Still, a few weeks later, it appears Brantley was only trying to get under the skin of the Arkansas gun-rights crowd and told the radio station in the above-mentioned interview he'd post the information again despite threats he and his family have received. If that's not common sense talking, I don't know what is.

Regardless, Arkansas concealed carry permit-holders have taken their wrath and shifted it to their legislators, demanding someone protect their identity, and rightly so. Several days ago a Democratic state legislator came to the rescue. Representative Randy Stewart drafted a bill faster than you could read the list of gun-carrying enthusiasts. It will "Prohibit the release of the identities or other information concerning concealed handgun licenses." In light of Brantley's faux paux, the bill will probably pass. What hindsight, what timing!

This isn't the first time a Democrat has come to the aid of the Second Amendment in a state, and Arkansas is no exception. As one Republican legislature in Arkansas put it: "When it comes to the Second Amendment, we are all Republicans in Arkansas!" Even so, the irony seems to tip the balance. When you see what the Democrat-run Arkansas is considering in addition to this bill, one wonders why the legislature is choosing to protect one vocal group while ignoring the rights of others (or individuals).

The Arkansas legislature passed a bill in the House last week that makes not wearing a seatbelt while driving a primary offense (meaning a policeman can stop you just for not wearing a seatbelt). They also raised the minimum wage again. These bills still need to go to the Senate but will most likely pass. Grant it, they are different in origin and execution from Stewart's bill—but a central theme lies at the core of each of these bills and begs the question: Who should the state protect and why?

Perhaps the Arkansas legislature has forgotten their original purpose which includes more than just folks who embrace the 2nd Amendment with fervor. Stewart's bill is a solid one, but it seems inconsistent that a Representative can propose a bill that grants further protection to one segment of people yet he and his fellow Representatives in the House have taken individual liberties (on the road) from others and still given to another group, a "free" pay increase which fails to protect business owners and taxpayers.

Brantley's stunt may have made him look foolish but it also may provide protection gun-owners in Arkansas need. Guns notwithstanding, Arkansas would do better if the local legislature could determine -- and stick to -- their original role and stop picking and choosing who to listen to based on what's made the news or who screamed the loudest.

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About the Author

Nicole Russell writes from Northern Virginia.