To inflame rather than to inform

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board January 04, 2013 11:44 am

Baker City Herald Editorial Board

The debate spawned by a White Plains, N.Y., newspaper’s decision to publish an interactive map showing the addresses and names of people who have permits to own handguns couldn’t happen in Oregon.

There are two reasons.

First, Oregon law doesn’t require residents to get a permit merely to own a handgun.

Second, although Oregon law does require people to obtain a license if they want to carry a handgun in a concealed manner, the Legislature passed a bill last year — HB 4045 — that exempts permit records from the state’s public records law except in certain cases.

Put simply, if the Baker City Herald wanted to create a similar map of Baker County residents who have a concealed-carry permit, we couldn’t get the information.

We don’t much like HB 4045.

We think public records should be accessible by the public.

That said, we don’t consider the White Plains newspaper’s decision a sterling example of community-minded journalism.

Frankly we don’t see what purpose the interactive map serves other than to advance the misguided notion that pinpointing the location of legally owned handguns will somehow protect the public.

We’ve seen no compelling evidence to support this idea.

If a media outlet truly intends to help safeguard people, then its resources would be better spent putting together a map showing, to name two examples, the addresses of registered sex offenders and people who have been convicted of driving while intoxicated.

We’re not advocating such an effort. But it could at least be justified, in that drunk drivers and sex offenders have shown that they present a threat to the public. And that threat is more mobile, as it were, than an inanimate handgun.

Drunk drivers can kill you on the highway or on your own street or in the parking lot at the grocery store. Some sex offenders are literally predators, stalking victims wherever they can be found.

Reporting the number of handgun permits issued in a particular jurisdiction is a worthwhile enterprise that puts an important topic — the prevalence of certain guns — into geographic perspective.

But publishing the likely locations of those guns, as though they were landmines, seems to us an act of sensationalism rather than of well-considered journalism.