A controversial map recently published by The Journal News
newspaper in New York marked one of the latest reactions to the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn. The map disclosed the identities of all pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties.
While the move rankled many, it also highlighted a fact that many Americans may not have been aware of: It's sometimes possible to find out if your neighbors have gun permits.
Here's how to learn if the Joneses next door could be packing heat:
First of all, you can't obtain information on gun permits in all states. That's because there's no national registry for guns, explained Peter Chisholm, division chief of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
And that's not likely to change anytime soon, added Kristen Rand, legislative director of The Violence Policy Center
, because there's actually a "prohibition" in federal law that precludes the bureau from creating a federal registry. She attributed the "prohibition" to lobbying from the National Rifle Association
The only gun registries that do exist are state registries. Only a minority of states have them, however, since most states do not require residents to obtain a permit to purchase a firearm.
And even in those states with registries, you can never know if your neighbor possesses a gun illegally. You also can't be sure if someone who has a gun permit actually owns a gun. Why? Because state registries only track the permits, not guns.
That said, in those states that have gun registries (which are only a few, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence
), residents may have the right to obtain gun-permit information under their state's public records laws.
To do so, you must make a public records request by contacting your local county clerk's office or your state's department of justice, depending on the state you live in.
The request should specify what sort of gun-permit information you seek, such as the names of individuals you may be inquiring about.
After submitting a request, the office you contacted should respond by phone or mail to provide you with the information. You may be charged a fee if you ask for copies of the records.
Read more on AOL's series, "Guns in America":
Guns at Home: Do Neighborhoods' Firearms Permits Lower Property Values?
President Obama's Gun Control Proposals at a Glance
Confessions of a Gun Shop Owner
Follow @AOLGunsInUSA for more coverage of the hot-button issue of gun control.