September 4, 2000
LEE HOCHBERG: Walking the streets of an American city like Fort Collins, Colorado, it's hard to know who's carrying a gun.
DENNIS POLLOCK, Street Vendor: It is kind of scary to think that anybody could be walking up and have a concealed weapon, and run into a situation, they pull out a gun, and you didn't even know they had it.
LEE HOCHBERG: Do you carry a gun?
ROD ROCKEFELLER, Gun Owner: I have, yes.
LEE HOCHBERG: A concealed weapon?
ROD ROCKEFELLER: Yes. I've got a permit.
LEE HOCHBERG: Do you carry it out on the street here?
ROD ROCKEFELLER: I have, yeah. There's a concern of mine for myself and for my family.
LEE HOCHBERG: Three million Americans carry concealed weapons. Ten years ago, it was allowed only in a few states, but now 31 states permit gun owners to carry a hidden firearm if they have no felony record. In 12 other states, like Colorado, there's no state right to carry, but local law enforcement officials can extend the privilege. With more guns than ever on the street, some say the public should be told who's carrying one.
SPOKESMAN: Yeah, guns are a big deal here, so there are a lot of people that have a lot to do with guns.
LEE HOCHBERG: The editor of the "Fort Collins Coloradoan" recently published the names of more than 600 Larimer County residents who have concealed weapons permits. Dave Greiling says he printed the list because in this middle class college town north of Denver, it's a public safety issue.
DAVE GREILING: There is concern among some members of the community as to, does my next-door-neighbor have a concealed weapon; does the person that I had a rift or an argument with at work, does he or she have the right to carry a concealed weapon?
LEE HOCHBERG: The newspaper fueled a debate between those, who agree concealed weapons are a safety issue, and some gun owners, who say the fact that they carry a hidden gun should be private.
SPOKESMAN: This gun I have carried in my back pocket for, I'd say, literally thousands of hours. You're walking through a back alley at night, you're familiar with the machine, and you learn to shoot fast, learn to shoot good. (Gunshots firing)
LEE HOCHBERG: John Swets was angry when his name appeared in the newspaper. Swets regularly practices marksmanship with his Smith and Wesson kit gun, firing from his backyard deck across the Cache La Poudre River.
JOHN SWETS: See, I'm hitting right at the end of that stick right there in the sand bank?
LEE HOCHBERG: He says he needs to carry his gun on the streets of Fort Collins.
JOHN SWETS: There are times when the wife and I are dressed up for a social event or something like that, and she has some rather valuable jewelry with her. And as the insurance company says, we're a target. Just the mere presence of a weapon will eliminate the "problem" oftentimes.
LEE HOCHBERG: But Swets says his weapon is hardly concealed anymore, since the newspaper showed the community he may be carrying it.
JOHN SWETS: These people have a responsibility, yes, to the people who read the newspapers. They also have a responsibility to those of us who wish to keep a low profile. You're asking for privacy when you can get a concealed weapons permit, and this privacy is being violated when you have your name printed in the paper.
LEE HOCHBERG: Editor Greiling says his readers are unsympathetic to that case.
DAVE GREILING: For every call that we've gotten from people saying, well, my name's on the list, and you've invaded my privacy, we've had counterbalancing calls from people saying, I didn't know that so and so had the right to do this, I'm glad I did. It's going to affect the way I interact with that individual.
LEE HOCHBERG: What separates people like Swets from those who favor publication is the fervent belief that concealed weapons make life safer. Gun carriers cite a University of Chicago study that found from 1977 to '92 in states allowing concealed handguns, murders fell by 8%. Critics say the study was flawed; that crime declined for other reasons. But it convinced Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden.
JIM ALDERDEN: There is no public safety endangerment by issuing concealed weapons permits. My gut feeling was that this was irresponsible, and that it was driven by a motivation to make some headlines.
LEE HOCHBERG: As if in the Old West, Alderden rode into the sheriff's office on horseback a year ago January. He'd been elected after a campaign, partially funded by the NRA, that promised easier access to concealed weapons permits. Once in office, flanked by cardboard cutouts of John Wayne, he approved more than 600 permits in his first year-- 15 times the number his predecessor issued in eight years.
JIM ALDERDEN: People who apply for concealed weapons permits are law-abiding, honest citizens, and they're willing to take the risk to help their neighbor, should that become necessary. So in that aspect, I think our community is safer.
SPOKESMAN: I understand what the guy is saying, but I think it's baloney.
LEE HOCHBERG: The man Alderden defeated says the new permits don't make Fort Collins safer, and permit holders' names should be published. Richard Shockley issued only 40 permits in eight years, demanding applicants show compelling need to carry a hidden weapon.
RICHARD SHOCKLEY: Everybody in the world doesn't need to have one. If some outsider is threatening you or a member of your family with some type of physical violence, that's a compelling need. But just because you tell me, "I'm afraid"... Well, what are you afraid of? "Well, I'm afraid of life." That wasn't sufficient enough for me to give you a concealed weapons permit.
LEE HOCHBERG: When Shockley was sheriff, a Denver TV station asked him for the names of those who he'd given permits. He refused, citing their unique need for privacy. A court forced him to release the names of those the judge felt had no such need. Shockley says since the new sheriff isn't considering need before issuing permits, the media ought to examine who's getting them. After Florida legalized concealed weapons, a St. Petersburg newspaper found 94 new permit holders had arrest records. The "Coloradoan" found no such irregularities among Colorado's new permit holders.
KEN CHLOUBER: Newspapers, what are you doing this for? What are you getting out of publishing somebody's name that's obeyed the law?
LEE HOCHBERG: Conservative lawmakers like Ken Chlouber say the media wants to trample gun rights in a rural state where having guns has never been a big deal.
KEN CHLOUBER: It just says, well, you know, Joe here, he's got a permit to carry a concealed weapon, so you better watch out for him. Well, that's just foolish. That just cornbread country nonsense. Come on.
LEE HOCHBERG: Chlouber raises burros in the Rocky Mountain mining town of Leadville, 150 miles and an era removed from Fort Collins. He spearheaded a bill to ban Colorado newspapers from publishing weapon holders' names.
LEE HOCHBERG: You did sponsor a bill that would infringe on the First Amendment.
KEN CHLOUBER: Yeah. They're infringing on my Second Amendment. I think that's fair.
LEE HOCHBERG: Chlouber says despite gun violence and gun fears in larger cities, Americans must protect their privacy rights.
KEN CHLOUBER: I do think perhaps if you're living in town, maybe you get that sort of a whiny, wet-diaper attitude that somebody ought to take care of you all the time. We live different out here. Somebody comes in my house, to my family, I've got to be able-- or my wife-- somebody's got to be able to defend themselves.
LEE HOCHBERG: Chlouber's bill passed the Colorado legislature, but Republican Governor Bill Owens vetoed it. He argued: "Disclosure of permit information might be warranted. This bill violates the spirit of an open and accountable government." But Colorado lawmakers are set to retry the legislation next year. Editor Greiling promises to keep publishing names, responded to what he says is an overriding public safety need in his community.