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Should you know if your neighbour has a gun?

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Martin Rosenbaum | 15:52 UK time, Thursday, 3 June 2010

Does the coalition government's agenda for increasing public access to state data have any relevance to gun ownership and the shootings in Cumbria?

Some in the USA might think so. As I've noted previously (on the subject of public-sector pay), there's a different set of cultural attitudes that allows public access to information in the US which many Britons would traditionally have regarded as a serious breach of privacy.

Some American local newspapers have taken to obtaining and publishing lists of residents with various gun permits, which in numerous US states is publicly available information. Here's a list of people in parts of Ohio who are allowed to carry concealed handguns.

The publication of such material has been far from uncontroversial. A newspaper in Virginia was forced to remove a database it had published of residents with concealed-carry permits. Arguments on both sides have featured in the US press.

On the one hand, a policy of openness could result in useful warnings, enabling a concerned member of the public to report concerns that a particular individual on a published list is not - or is no longer - suitable to be a gun owner (whether this could have made any difference in the case of Derrick Bird is not yet clear). On the other, it could clearly assist criminals who want to steal guns.

The UK government has stated that it won't rush to new legislation in the wake of the killings. But it would be a big shift in British attitudes for it to conclude it should apply its policy of openness to lists of gun owners.


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