The San Francisco Chronicle says it has received threats over its request for public records on concealed weapons permits, after a sheriff’s letters and a Facebook post notified all of the gun owners in his county, the Washington Post reports. Some Facebook posters imagined plans to get gun owners harassed and fired. Others saw plain nosiness or a “small step towards gun confiscation.” They didn’t think their concealed weapon permits should be public record and they were deeply suspicious of the Chronicle. Sutter County Sheriff Brandon Barnes acknowledged that he was legally obligated to give the newspaper names, dates and more for the county’s thousands of permits, which the Chronicle wanted to comb for trends or signs of the system being abused.
“As always, I am committed to protecting the rights of our citizens, and those rights afforded to us by our Second Amendment,” Barnes posted on Facebook. He says he mailed the note to every permit holder in his area. The virulent response since — hundreds of angry comments, thousands of shares and even threats that led the Chronicle to heighten its security — have renewed a debate over the public’s right to gun records and mobilized people in one of California’s conservative-leaning counties. It’s a familiar story in the normally mundane world of records requests, where paper after paper has met anxiety and outrage from permit holders alleging an invasion of their privacy. Years of backlash have helped make government records on gun ownership remarkably inaccessible across the U.S. The trend has dissuaded some reporters from going after data that’s become a political lightning rod. “I’m confident it has had a chilling effect,” said Ken Paulson, who heads the First Amendment Center.