There's been a lot of feedback on last week's cover story, and particularly on the cover of the paper itself ("Pistol Packing People," Sept. 25). In case you missed it, the story was about people in Humboldt County with permits to carry concealed weapons on their person. The graphic on the cover was composed out of the names of 641 of the 652 people who have such a permit.
At least some of the 641 people in the list were not too pleased about this. Some of them called the paper or stopped by the office to talk with me about it. The conversations we had were, to me, some of the most interesting and fulfilling I've had in quite some time. These were cool people, just as the people profiled in the article were. They were Humboldt County folk, down to their marrow. And though we may not have parted in complete agreement about every particular, each conversation ended with a handshake, either verbal or physical.
But since not everyone who took issue will want to call in -- and because the thing became a minor cause celebre in Internet gun circles last week, by people who understand little to nothing about the county -- we want to explain our position.
We strongly reject the idea that we have invaded anyone's privacy. There was no privacy involved. In California, the privilege of carrying a loaded firearm in public is a public matter. Licenses to do so are granted and bestowed by representatives of the people of the state of California, in their name, and the people have the right to examine the work of its representatives in granting or denying such licenses. It's a right, incidentally, that concealed carry proponents have fought for and won.
The list of concealed weapons permit holders is no more private than the list of licensed barbers. This is the law. Anyone could, and can, walk into the County Courthouse and acquire a great deal more than simply the names of permit holders. If we happen to have alerted any permit holders to this fact, then we believe we have performed a service.
Whether public information or not, we would not have published the names of permit holders if we had thought that doing so would place anyone in harm's way. And the first thing to be underscored, in this instance, is those 11 names that the Sheriff's Office did not give us. These were people whose stated reason for going about armed is that they have a very specific bad guy in their lives. The names of these people do not appear.
Though many people have since argued that we have "painted targets on the backs" of permit holders, we simply fail to see how this is the case. Idle minds can conjure all sorts of fantastic scenarios, but we have yet to see any evidence of anyone singled out or targeted by bad guys as the result of their permit becoming public. (Yes, other newspapers have done such stories before.) And if you are against a list of concealed weapons permitees on such grounds, why wouldn't you be twice as concerned about the vital records -- the obituaries, etc.? Where would a newspaper-scanning thug be more likely to find soft targets?
Reasonable people can disagree. But if there's one thing that absolutely sticks in our craw, it's the idea that we are somehow part of the vast left-wing conspiracy, "out to get" gun owners. Thankfully, most locals who objected to the cover actually took the time to read the story, and most who spoke with us read it as the fine, respectful piece it was intended to be. Listen: This is Humboldt County. Just about everyone within the borders of the place is a hyperintense freedom-lover of one stripe or another, and the idea that we, who love our county, would want to tear down people like the Elsebusches or the Queens or anyone else in that story or on that list just because they carry a pistol is beyond ludicrous.
Thankfully, the cartoon version is alien to most everyone who actually knows the place. That's why the prototypical response is the one from Don Brandon, rangemaster at the Simpson Shooting Range outside of Blue Lake. What did Brandon do, upon reading the story and hearing some of the reaction? He called up and invited our writer to come on out to the range for some shooting some time, if she'd like. That's the one that made us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the one that made everything seem right in the world.