Recently I received several emails requesting I contact my legislator to encourage their support of privacy rights for concealed weapons permit holders. While I agreed with the sentiment, the emails lacked substantive arguments. I realized many people may support privacy, but were unsure why. Here are my reasons.
This issue started when a public records request was made for the list of names and addresses of all concealed weapons permit holders in the State. Initially the request was made by the Bangor Daily News, which was later withdrawn. Then another request was made anonymously, which seems ironic, by a group calling themselves “Celebration Connect.” In response, the legislature passed LD 576, to temporarily keep those names private. There is more to loose than to gain from the release of permit holders’ private information, and now a permanent measure should be taken.
One great American tradition is the ability to exercise our rights anonymously; it helps protect those who hold unpopular opinions. We can practice our freedom of speech anonymously, and the right to bear arms is no different. However, another tradition is transparency in government, which is why these permits raise an issue. Conceal and carry permits are issues by the State, and all government records are available for public review.
Maine’s Freedom of Access Act is intended to maximize transparency in government. The FOAA was not intended to allow for the collection and publication of information on fellow citizens. Here is how the State describes the intent of the law: “The Maine Freedom of Access Act grants the people of this state a broad right of access to public records while protecting legitimate governmental interests and the privacy rights of individual citizens.” I am completely in favor of transparency in government. However, these permits relate to the conduct of private citizens, and should stay out of public records.
The purpose of a conceal and carry permit is to allow people to protect themselves, without disrupting the public. Making the names and addresses of permit holders public, defeats the purpose of “concealing” the weapon. With the release, all permit holders could become targets, either by criminals looking to obtain a firearm that would be untraceable, by anti-gun activists, or by the very people the permit holders would want to protect themselves from. Everyone could understand why a woman who had been the victim of domestic violence would want to keep her concealed weapons permit confidential. Exposing the fact that an individual is willing to defend herself might only invite more dangerous attacks. There is much to lose from the release of these names.
Some might argue the release of the permit holders’ names and addresses serves a public interest. Those who find it distressing to be around firearms have the right to avoid them. Yet no one can be caused discomfort by a weapon they are unaware of. And the right to avoid distress does not take precedence over another’s right to self defense. Releasing the permit holders information would only serve a public interest if it would prevent physical harm. However, these are law abiding citizens that have committed no crime and pose no danger to society. If possible, the only list that might improve public safety is the list of people who carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
Another argument for keeping the list public is that victims should be able to find out if their attacker might carry a concealed weapon. If the records were private, this scenario would be worse than the reverse for the victim. Of course the argument assumes the victim does not report the crime, and the State fails to do their job and revoke the permit. To obtain a permit, there are a substantial number of requirements, including the opening up of confidential mental health records. Without the watchful eye of concerned citizens, our government has many layers of oversight to ensure the mentally ill do not obtain a permit, and permits are revoked from anyone who subsequently commits a crime. There is little to gain from the release of these names.
This situation has already come to pass in other states, favoring privacy. In New York State, The Journal News published the names and addresses of handgun license holders in Westchester and Rockland Counties. The information was subsequently removed after the passage of the NY SAFE gun law, which allows handgun license holders to request their names and addresses be removed from public databases. The Journal News claimed their purpose for publishing the names was to “empower our readers with as much information as possible on the critical issues.” They could have just published the statistics. Instead they published information explicitly to intimidate gun owners, potentially putting law abiding citizens at risk, while advancing no public interest.
On March 12th there will be at least thirteen different pieces of legislation regarding concealed weapons discussed at the State House. I hope Representative Corey Wilson’s bill, LD 345, is passed. It is also my hope hunting licenses are included, for all the same reasons as above, but mostly because our neighbors do not need to know who owns a firearm. Most gun owners are probably indifferent to the publication of their names; I proudly display a NRA sticker on my Jeep. However, some citizens would prefer to keep their gun ownership private. Regardless of ones politics on gun rights, as Mainers, being markedly private people, I believe this is something we can all agree on.
Originally Published in the Bangor Daily News