A Senate committee today approved Fireball Holland's bill to make the list of concealed gun permit holders secret.
He said he was inspired by publication in New York of names and addresses of permit holders, complete with searchable map.
Plenty wrong with this:
* In Arkansas, names come only with ZIP codes. Good luck finding anyone with that list, save maybe the odd person who's the sole permit holder in a ZIP code. With 130,000 permit holders, I'm guess that number is small, if not non-existent.
* These lists have been used here and elsewhere as a check on law enforcement's spotty work on background checking. Sometimes criminal records haven't been forwarded into the state system and thus people have gotten permits who shouldn't have had them.
* Sometimes permit holders do bad things. I provided police with their first knowledge of two Arkansas permit holders who went astray — the doctor later convicted of conspiring to bomb a Medical Board member and a man who shot up a courthouse.
* Sometimes permit holders exhibit bad judgment. Consider the doctor who opened fire on a moving car after a possible robbery on a busy grocery store parking lot in western Little Rock. This is contrary to deadly weapon guidance of every police agency. No charges have been filed against him. They may not be. But the awareness of his status as a permit holder has allowed the public to press public officials on whether he will be charged or, at least, face suspension of his permit for taking actions contrary to public safety.
* Studies around the country have repeatedly revealed gaps in granting of permits to unqualified people.
* There's no justification offered for giving gun owners secrecy not extended to dozens of other sorts of public records that the government maintains.
Publicly maintained records should be public, as a check on both the agency that does the work and the people who receive the privilege. That seems simple to me, if not Fireball.
But I also have to wonder: What, exactly, is it that the gun-toters fear so much? I thought guns made you safer. Doesn't this bill suggest that knowledge of a person's possession of a concealed carry permit makes that person less safe?
Maybe if we had a background check procedure like that used in New York, there'd be more confidence in the process.
The Arkansas Press Association reports on its effort to sidetrack the legislation:
Despite lengthy and persuasive testimony against Senate Bill 131 (which would completely close all public records of concealed handgun licensees), the bill received a “do pass” from the Senate State Agencies Committee this morning and is headed to the floor of the Senate. David Johnson of Little Rock was the only member to vote against the “do pass” motion. All members are encouraged to contact their Senators and urge them to vote against Senate Bill 131. First and foremost, Senators should be made aware that the bill has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, nothing to do with guns. It is about safeguarding citizen access to public records.
Talking points in opposition to SB 131:
1. SB 131 (Holland) will completely close all records pertaining to the licensure of persons to carry concealed handguns, creating a secret group of licensees whose identities cannot be known by anyone. No interested party, neighbors, co-workers or other associates will have any access to any information on those who have been, are or are seeking to be licensed to carry a concealed handgun. It represents nothing less than further erosion of Arkansas’ strong Freedom of Information Act.
2. The bill undoes a hard-won compromise from the 2009 General Assembly in which the Freedom of Information Coalition agreed to exempt certain information about licensees from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) while seeking to keep just two pieces of information about licensees open: name and ZIP Code. Members of the Senate State Agencies and Govt’l Affairs Committee, especially Ed Wilkinson and Steve Bryles, were integral in helping create compromise legislation that the whole committee could vote for. In the end the bill succeeded and was enacted. This bill just guts the compromise and completely closes the records.
3. The current law, embodying the compromise bill of 2009, balances open government and personal privacy. SB 131 will force legislators to choose between total secrecy and some degree of freedom of information. Passage would defy the coalition’s attempts to prevent further attacks of the Freedom of Information Act.
4. Citizen oversight is an important component in protecting the public from violent crimes. Three recent high profile crimes have involved shooters who were licensed to carry a concealed handgun in Arkansas. On the other hand, SB 131 would do little to protect permit holders, as there has been no harm to them due to partially open public records in the nearly four years since the compromise legislation was enacted in 2009 and years before that when the records were completely open.