Columns » Max Brantley

Max’s law



It's safe to predict that the Arkansas Senate will follow the House's lead and complete action this week on a bill that will close the records of concealed weapon permit holders.

Blame me for a law that will make government less accountable.

This story has mostly played out on the Internet, but to recap: In mid-February, following the lead of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, I requested the permit list from the Arkansas State Police. It is public record.

I posted the list on-line on our Arkansas Blog, exactly as it is carried by the State Police and exactly as it has been provided to many others — including gun groups seeking mailing lists.

Controversy erupted here as it had in Memphis. Responding to fears about the publication of specific addresses, I took the list off the web. But, by then, the secrecy legislation was on an express track.

Emotion trumped reason. It's a significant privilege to be allowed to carry a concealed weapon in public. Experience in other states shows that the qualification procedures and ongoing checks for disqualifying acts by permit holders are not always foolproof. Criminals sometimes get or keep permits. Some people who hold permits should not. I received at least four specific death threats from people who said they held permits. One permit holder, who identified himself by name, said he didn't want me killed, but said a baseball bat beating was in order. I received dozens of other menacing calls and e-mails directed at me, my business, my family and even, in one case, my dog.

Logic was in short supply. The permit holders who identified themselves to me were also registered voters. Thus, personal information about them was already available on-line. Permit holders repeatedly said public knowledge of their carry permits made them less secure. I thought carry permits were supposed to bring greater security. I also don't understand the argument that a criminal is more likely to target someone who has demonstrated proficiency in gun use. Many permit holders also believed there was implicit ridicule in a public listing of their names.

Legislators swallowed a tale told by Rep. Randy Stewart, the secrecy bill's sponsor and a gun instructor. He suggested a relationship between the list's publication and a gun stolen from a gun permit holder's vehicle several days later. The list, needless to say, doesn't specify where permit holders keep their weapons or what type of vehicles they drive. In my neighborhood, leaving anything of value in a car — much less a gun — is invitation to theft.

Bloodied, I'm unbowed in the belief that there's a public interest in permit holders, a state regulated activity. The public knowledge also serves as a check on the gatekeepers. Just this week, the State Police learned from me that the list included a man arrested on a federal charge of possessing unregistered grenades. Such public checks are now to be lost. My fault, but probably inevitable. Nearly half the states seal these records rather than incur the gun lobby's wrath.

Fear, suspicion and even paranoia ran deep among the angriest callers. They highly prize secrecy of armed movement among us. Sadly they were misinformed, along with gun instructor Stewart. He was simply wrong when he said the law provides an expectation of secrecy for public records.

I'll say this about fear. I never had much until I got crosswise with some concealed weapon fanatics.

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