Which is morally worse, killing a pre-natal human being or keeping a loaded gun in the house for self-defense? The former, obviously. Both abortion and gun ownership are legal, but one would have to be singularly benighted to think that the keeping is morally worse than the killing, or even morally commensurable with it, let alone morally equivalent to it. It is the difference between taking life and liberty and protecting them. One is wrong, the other is permissible if not obligatory. Therefore, if it would be wrong -- and certainly it would be -- for a newspaper to publish the names and addresses of abortionists and of women who have had abortions, then a fortiori what The Journal News of White Plains, New York did is wrong. According to the NYT:
Two weeks ago, the paper published the names and addresses of handgun permit holders — a total of 33,614 — in two suburban counties, Westchester and Rockland, and put maps of their locations online.
[. . .]But the article, which left gun owners feeling vulnerable to harassment or break-ins, also drew outrage from across the country. Calls and e-mails grew so threatening that the paper’s president and publisher, Janet Hasson, hired armed guards to monitor the newspaper’s headquarters in White Plains and its bureau in West Nyack, N.Y.
Personal information about editors and writers at the paper has been posted online, including their home addresses and information about where their children attended school; some reporters have received notes saying they would be shot on the way to their cars; bloggers have encouraged people to steal credit card information of Journal News employees; and two packages containing white powder have been sent to the newsroom and a third to a reporter’s home (all were tested by the police and proved to be harmless).
Note the double standard. Hasson hired armed guards. Two points. First, she apparently grasps the idea of guns being used defensively when it comes to her defense. Why not then generally? Second, these armed guards are not agents of the government. They are in the private sector. Why didn't she simply rely on the cops to protect her? After all, that's the liberal line: 'There is no need for civilians to have guns; their protection is the job of the police.' Hasson's behavior smacks of hypocrisy.
Threatening and harrassing the editors and writers at the newspaper is obviously wrong. But publishing their names and addresses cannot be wrong if what the paper did is not wrong. I say both are wrong. The publisher and the editor exercised terrible judgment in a misguided attempt to drive up circulation. But now it has come back to bite them, and one hopes they will be driven out of business for their rank irresponsibility.
Responsible people consider the consequences of their actions. Not everything one has a right to do is right to do. Responsible people also consider the consequences of their speech. Contrary to what some foolish civil libertarians think, speech is not just words. Not everything one has a right to say is right to say. To say or do anything that is likely to incite violence is ceteris paribus wrong, whether it is legal or not.
Example. Blacks as a group are more criminally prone than whites as a group. That is true, and one certainly has a right, in general, to say it publically. But is is easy to imagine circumstances in which saying it publically would incite violence. In those circumstances the saying of it would be wrong despite the truth and indeed the importance of what is said.
One might accuse me of being too reasonable with our enemies. One might remind me of one of my own aphorisms:
Time to be unreasonable. It is not reasonable to be reasonable with everyone. Some need to be met with the hard fist of unreason. The reasonable know that reason's sphere of application is not limitless.