Controversial Database Intended to Benefit Public Safety

In December, a Memphis-based newspaper posted a searchable database of citizens with permits to carry concealed handguns.

The post went relatively unnoticed until early February, when the paper — the Commercial Appeal — referred to its database while covering a story. This set off a firestorm of debate over the legality and relative merits of the database, with the First and Second Amendments hanging in the balance.

Nevertheless, Chris Peck, editor of the Commercial Appeal, said readers have come to use the database, which is searchable by inputting last name, first name, city and zip code.

“The first reader we are aware of who inquired about whether a particular person had a permit to carry did so after a shooting in Memphis, where two drivers got into an argument of whose SUV was parked too close to the other,” Peck said. “The man who did the shooting did, in fact, have a permit to carry. Another reader told us she used the list to find out whether a man who was stalking her had a gun.”

The newspaper acquired this information from the Tennessee Department of Safety, paying $200 for the list, which is updated twice a year. According to Peck, the information was delivered via CD or DVD, which the Commercial Appeal then simply uploaded to its site.

It takes the paper just a few hours a week to maintain the database.

“We do periodically check it to make sure it is running,” Peck said. “And we edited the state…



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