If you were listening closely Friday, you might have heard gasps coming from the direction of Richmond. That's where a proposal to seal concealed-carry permit information was making its way through the General Assembly.
According to the bill's patron, Sen. Mark Obenshain, the racket was coming almost exclusively from newspaper types.
Here's a two-word response to my fellow journalists: Quit whining.
We did this to ourselves.
This has been coming ever since our sister paper, The Roanoke Times, published a list of permit holders in 2007. Since then, TV stations in other states also have targeted legal gun owners. And in December, a suburban New York paper not only printed the names and home addresses of gun owners in its circulation area, but also created an interactive map to make it easy to find these law-abiding folks.
This information could be used in a variety of ways. Here are two: Thieves desperate to get their paws on weapons had a handy guide to homes with guns. On the flip side, home invaders easily could find houses where the owners were armed with nothing but pillows.
A win-win for the bad guys.
Oh yeah, and anyone who might have moved to get away from a stalker or an abusive ex-spouse was exposed. Lovely.
In response, New York state legislators - hardly a gun-loving gang - passed a law allowing gun owners to opt out of the public databases.
Score one for privacy rights.
It takes a lot for me to come down on the side of keeping information away from the public, but the privacy rights of law-abiding Virginians need protection, too.
When newspapers publish lists of honest people who merely are exercising their constitutional rights, that isn't journalism. It borders on harassment.
When I spoke to him Friday, Obenshain said Virginia remains one of a dozen states to allow public access to the names of gun or concealed-carry permit holders. After The Roanoke Times' stunt, the General Assembly sealed the state police database, he said. But those names still are available from clerks of the court.
"This essentially closes a loophole in the law," noted the senator from Harrisonburg, who characterizes himself as an "open government" guy.
Anticipating outraged newspaper editorials that will denounce the bill as a pro-gun measure and try to link it in some way to the hideous massacres in Newtown and Blacksburg, Obenshain penned a pre-emptive statement.
"This isn't a gun rights bill," he wrote. "It's a public safety bill... It simply affirms that exercising a constitutional right should not land your personal information on someone's list with a government assist."
He's right. SB1335 does nothing to loosen restrictions for concealed-carry permits.
Even if the measure is defeated, local permit holders won't be outed by The Virginian-Pilot. On Friday, Editor Denis Finley - who hadn't seen the bill - said newspapers that publish the names of gun owners have "crossed a line."
"I'm dead set against publishing lists of people who are engaging in perfectly legal activities and making it look like they did something wrong," he said.
I am, too. One way to make sure it doesn't happen is for the lawmakers to protect the privacy of law-abiding people.
Cue the gasps.
A version of this story originally ran in The Virginian-Pilot on February 10, 2013.