Not long ago, concealed handgun permit-holders in New York awoke to an unpleasant surprise: their names and addresses had been published on an interactive map. This map allowed anyone — neighbors, coworkers, thieves — to take a virtual tour of any community, conveniently sharing whether or not the homeowner had a concealed carry permit — along with the permit holder’s full name and address. In short, they treated these people like criminals.
This is what passes for the people’s right to know these days.
Freedom of information is important, and transparency in government is essential. That’s why I’ve worked to open up the budget process to closer public scrutiny and, as a member of the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform and Restructuring, have supported proposals to open up government records and make the work of government more transparent.
So why oppose “public record” status for the concealed handgun permit list? Simple: you shouldn’t land on a public list just for exercising your constitutional rights.
Virginia is one of only twelve states where a concealed carry permit is a public record. The list of permit holders is available to anyone who wants it. We had been one of thirteen, but even liberal New York shielded such records from public disclosure last month, after the publication of that infamous map.
Before anyone suggests that this would never happen in the Old Dominion, let me remind you that back in 2007, the Roanoke Times published a similar database. The Roanoke Times eventually pulled it, however, citing its inadvertently disclosure of the names and addresses of victims of domestic violence. The records, however, remain open to anyone who requests them. When you consider that some of these gun owners have very specific reasons for their gun ownership — victims of domestic violence, for instance, who may have moved to escape an abuser or stalker — that’s a disturbing proposition.
Several years back, the State Police records on concealed handgun permits were sealed, but clerks’ office records remain publicly available. My Senate Bill 1335, as amended, will change that.
This isn’t a gun bill; it’s a public safety bill. It does not expand eligibility for a concealed handgun permit or make it easier to obtain. It simply affirms that exercising a constitutional right should not land your personal information on someone’s list with a government assist.
I think that’s a proposition we should all be able to get behind.
Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Dist. 26) is a candidate for Virginia Attorney General.