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Officials: Permits should be private
Bill to protect handgun permit records awaits governor's signature

Sunday, February 17, 2013

By SAM JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Some area officials and others are praising a bill that would bar public access to the names of concealed weapons permit holders.

“I don’t believe that the fact that an individual has chosen to apply for a concealed carry permit, has passed a background check and has been issued a permit to carry concealed weapon — I don’t see where there is a major public interest in that,” said Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell.

Virginia law currently makes the names of those who hold concealed handgun permits information of public record. However, legislation that would make that data private is headed to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desk.

State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, originally sent a bill to the floor to keep private the names of permit applicants protected by a protective order. However, The House of Delegates expanded the bill to cover all permit holders, according to The Associated Press (AP).

Without debate Thursday, the Senate voted 31-9 to accept the House amendment, the AP reported, and McDonnell’s office later said he would review the bill when it reaches his desk.

Supporters of the bill have said it protects the privacy of law-abiding gun owners, but open-government groups say it will prevent the public from monitoring government regulation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, the AP reported.

Bushnell, however, said he believes access to that kind of information could be dubious.

“I understand that people would want to know (who has a gun permit), but that’s the kind of information that can be abused,” he said.

Bushnell noted the publication of an online map in December by The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y., which listed the names and addresses of residents licensed to own handguns in Westchester County on the heels of the mass murder-suicide at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The home of one of the gun owners listed on the map later was burglarized.

“That is, in my opinion, a massive invasion of privacy,” Bushnell said.

The Roanoke Times sparked outrage in 2007 by publishing a database of concealed weapons permit holders, the AP reported.

Although Obenshain’s bill originally intended to protect the identities of those under a court’s protective order who applied for concealed handgun permits, Bushnell drew no distinction between those people — often victims of domestic violence — and anyone else who is granted a concealed carry permit.

“What’s the difference between that and a witness of a burglary who’s afraid of retaliation or intimidation?” he said. “An argument can be made that person is entitled to privacy, too.”

Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said he didn’t see the need to allow access to permit information, saying a public database of names could have a “psychological effect” and be disconcerting to those on it.

Perry said there are “a whole lot of people who have concealed carry permits” in Henry County, and while some people likely wouldn’t mind their identities being known, others would. Perry counts himself among the latter.

“I personally would feel like somebody was throwing a spotlight on me,” he said.

Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers said in one sense, public access to handgun permits could be a deterrent to crime.

“If I’m a criminal and I know somebody’s got a concealed carry permit, that tells me not only do they have a gun, but they’re more likely to use it for their personal safety,” Rogers said.

He noted, however, that often when a home is burglarized, guns are among the most sought-after items. Also, keeping gun permit records open could endanger those who seek protection from a threat, such as those under a protective order as outlined in the original bill, SB1335.

“If you disclose that information, it may escalate the level of threat” where a person who felt threatened could become armed, but those who threatened the person could learn he or she had a concealed carry permit and in turn arm themselves, Rogers said.

“That person may have a gun of his own” the next time he confronts the victim, Rogers said.

Tony Lawson, law enforcement and government sales manager at Town Gun Supply in Collinsville, said that in reality, publishing gun permit holders’ names would have little impact on public safety.

“Only law-abiding citizens can have them to begin with, so I don’t see the need to publish that information,” he said.

Federal law prohibits felons from possessing firearms. Someone seeking a concealed carry permit must apply with local law enforcement, which must approve an application and pass it on the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, and then to a judge for approval, Bushnell said.

“The General Assembly has said if you get a DUI within three years prior to applying, you can’t get a permit,” he said. “There’s a long list of disqualifying convictions.”

Also, a judge also can revoke a handgun permit if someone is convicted of a crime, he said.

Bushnell, Perry and Rogers all said that not protecting the identities of those who go through the permit process and submit to a background check to buy a handgun would do little to positively impact public safety because it would expose those who went through the system properly, not those who don’t.

“Criminals don’t think to ask the court’s permission so they can go out and commit felonies,” Bushnell said.

 

 
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