Missouri Considering Ban on Publishing Names of Gun Owners or Concealed Carry Permit Holders

Here’s one part of a Missouri bill that passed both houses of the legislature, that was vetoed by the Governor, and that is now up for a veto override vote:

1. [It shall be a misdemeanor for a] person or entity [to] publish the name, address, or other identifying information of any individual who owns a firearm or who is an applicant for or holder of any license, certificate, permit, or endorsement which allows such individual to own, acquire, possess, or carry a firearm.

2. For purposes of this section, “publish” means to issue information or material in printed or electronic form for distribution or sale to the public.

So this would make it illegal for someone to

  1. Mention in a newspaper article that a named criminal had attacked someone with the criminal’s gun.
  2. Mention in a newspaper article that a named crime victim had defended himself with his own gun.
  3. Mention in a newspaper article that a named defender wasn’t going to be charged because he was properly licensed to carry a gun.
  4. Argue in print or online that some legislator or commentator is being inconsistent in supporting gun bans while owning a gun (or having a concealed carry permit) himself.
  5. Talk in a blog post about your hunting or target-shooting trip with a named friend to which he brought his gun.
  6. Talk in a blog post or newspaper article about your own gun.

And that is even if we read the statute as meaning that it shall be a crime to name a person as the owner of a gun or as a concealed carry license holder. Read literally, the statute makes it a crime to publish the name of anyone who happens to own a gun, even if you don’t say that he’s a gun owner.

In any event, the proposal is clearly unconstitutional (see, e.g., Florida Star v. B.J.F. (1989)), and in my view quite appalling. I recognize that gun owners are concerned that being publicly identified as gun owners (or concealed carry holders) can sometimes lead to social and professional difficulties. But under the First Amendment, speech is protected even when it leads to hostility or ostracism. That you would rather conceal your gun ownership, or your religious preference, or your political ideas can’t justify your using the law to suppress my speech about those matters.

I also understand the argument that identifying someone as a gun owner might give prospective thieves information about who owns a valuable item. But such a concern that the speech might be “crime-facilitating” when heard by the wrong listeners doesn’t generally suffice to justify restricting speech. And in any event, the proposal is wildly underinclusive with regard to that concern, given that people remain free to talk about all sorts of other valuables that someone owns (e.g., what car is parked in someone’s garage, what jewelry someone has been seen wearing, what computers they own, and so on). There really is no constitutionally sufficient reason supporting this speech restriction, and the restriction reflects very badly on the bill’s supporters.

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