The Roanoke Times apologizes
Lessons learned in database incident
More discussion and thought should have gone into the decision to publish a database of concealed carry holders in the state.
We heard from literally thousands of people after our decision two weeks ago to post an online database of people in the state permitted to carry concealed handguns. Many people presented rational objections.
Many others responded with personal threats of violence and acts of intimidation -- responses we declined to publish.
The difficulty we've faced since is how to respond to the rational objections without validating the abusive tactics and attacks waged against this newspaper and the columnist who wrote a piece linked to the database.
Amid the firestorm of criticism, we've re-examined our decision-making process and reflected on the valid criticisms.
We've come to some conclusions.
First, we had a legal right to post the database. These were public records, legally obtained.
In some journalistic circles, that would be enough. The Washington Post's Marc Fisher praised the decision to post the information and accused The Roanoke Times of caving in to criticism when we decided to pull the database.
But upon reflection, we wish we had more fully discussed the potential ramifications before we made this decision. Dozens of concealed permit holders expressed heartfelt fear because of the exposure of what they believed was private information.
We gave insufficient thought and discussion to the potential that crime victims, law enforcement officers and domestic violence victims might be put at risk if their addresses were published.
Though many of our critics believe that the database handed burglars a shopping list of households with guns and abusers a list of their victims, no one can point to a single incident where similar publications led to a crime.
But we didn't know that until after the database was published. The potential for harm is something we should have given far greater thought to in making the decision.
For our failure to do so, The Roanoke Times apologizes.
We also regret that there was not a more compelling public purpose -- beyond illustrating how the Freedom of Information Act works -- behind the decision to post the database.
There are vital reasons these records should remain open.
But those reasons were not well illuminated -- or even particularly well served -- by the publication of the entire database.
The public should be able to monitor how well various jurisdictions screen concealed carry applicants.
So, yes, we made mistakes. The process for vetting this decision was not as thorough as it should have been.
Those mistakes, though, in no way justify the outrageous and threatening nature of much of the response. Very early on, a rational discussion of this issue became all but impossible.
It was extremely important that we not allow the unacceptable antics of the fringe to distract us from a careful examination of our own decision-making.
We want to assure our readers that, where we erred, we will strive not to repeat our mistakes. And we will continue to advocate passionately for the free flow of information that is the lifeblood of an open society.