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March 18, 2009

Is that a gun in your pocket?

When the Memphis Commercial Appeal recently added a searchable database of Tennessee gun owners to its website, I was crazy-jealous that we didn’t have that service available here. It would be fun to see which of my friends and frienemies are armed instead of always having to mentally pat them down.

The Memphis newspaper’s database (www.commercialappeal.com/data/gunpermits) includes the name, city, ZIP code and birth year of everyone in Tennessee who has a permit to carry a concealed handgun. Naturally, the database, which merges the “friend” appeal of Facebook with the rootin’ tootin’ murderous-rage potential of gun ownership, is a huge hit. The list has generated 65,000 page views per day — more than anything on the paper’s site — and infuriated the outted handgun enthusiasts who consider it an invasion of privacy.

The offended gun owners have done what they do best: sent threatening e-mails — 600 per day — to the paper and rallied the legislature (a third of whom are listed online as packin’ heat themselves) to outlaw the web database. For its part, the newspaper says the information is a matter of public record and stands by its decision to publish it. Time will tell whether the Second Amendment gets yet another victory over the First in their age-old battle for America’s hearts, minds and blood-smeared flesh.

At first, I was a bit conflicted about this story. On one hand, it would be, um, a blast to search an online database of local gun owners, especially those who are known rageaholics, say, or who are bad parallel parkers trying to quit smoking while being batshit crazy. It could also be a handy reference for parents to check before sending little Roscoe down the street for a playdate at the McVeighs’. And why wouldn’t gun owners want people to know they owned guns? Isn’t part of the appeal of gun ownership letting everyone know you have the capability to put holes where there were no holes before?

Then again, would such a list encourage the most paranoid among us to break conceal-and-carry laws? And in Kentucky, where just about anything goes when it comes to weapons of any kind, wouldn’t it be easier to make a database of those who don’t own concealed deadly weapons?

Fortunately, Wayne LaPierre, Nut-in-Chief of extremist group the National Rifle Association, put it into perspective by calling the Memphis database a “hateful, shameful form of public irresponsibility.” So you know it must be good. The NRA — which sees no problem with deadly weapons on college campuses, playgrounds, churches and public parks — has no shame when it comes to perpetuating the Wild West gun culture in America that results in tens of thousands of deaths every year, including the rampage in Alabama last week. Not to mention the unchecked gun trafficking at flea markets and yard sales. Not to mention opposition to microstamping, safety standards, record keeping and other bare-minimum, common sense gun restrictions.

In other gun news, the Smith & Wesson Corp. gave further lie to the myth that guns don’t kill people when it announced a recall of its Walther PPK and PPK/S pistols because they “may permit a round to be discharged without the trigger being pulled.” This must be horrifying news for pistol-packin’ NFL stars Plaxico Burris, Marshawn Lynch and Pacman Jones. Perhaps now football players will return to more wholesome activities than shooting up strip clubs. You know, like dog fighting.

Meanwhile, Louisville had a tragic nightclub shooting of its own last week when a lunatic shot and wounded four people inside Jim Porter’s Good Time Emporium & Cougar Habitat, even though the gunman apparently wasn’t even in the NFL. Did the episode prompt a call for sensible gun laws? No. People are so overwhelmed by the utter power of the gun lobby that the best they could muster was to vaguely criticize the nightclub for not having metal detectors.

Maybe a hint to the solution to our gun addiction lies in our glacial turn away from smoking. Instead of a national nicotine fit, we’re gradually getting the tobacco monkey off America’s back a decade at a time, thanks to smoking bans and taxes on cigarettes. Will new technology like microstamping and web databases help reduce gun violence? It’s too soon to say, but in the meantime, at least our neighbors in Tennessee have an entertaining diversion from the headlines about murderous rampages. 

Read past columns at leoweekly.com