February 20, 2013

New Maine law makes gun-permit data private

Most legislators dismiss worries that a temporary ban on access to the information will become permanent.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

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There are some concerns among members of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition that Tuesday's vote, and the inflamed controversy that preceded it, have made passage of Wilson's bill inevitable.

Lawmakers have been vigorously lobbied by the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine -- the hunting and conservation group that drafted Wilson's bill. The National Rifle Association has sent action alerts urging members to contact lawmakers to pass Wilson's bill since the records request by the Bangor Daily News ignited the firestorm.

Maine's Legislature has been historically resistant to opposing the gun lobby in a state where gun ownership and hunting are ingrained in culture and history.

Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, the Senate majority leader, said that the emergency moratorium was necessary to dial back the rancor from last week.

Goodall was asked Tuesday if making the concealed-weapons data temporarily private would essentially guarantee passage of Wilson's bill because it would be difficult for lawmakers to later argue that the information should be public.

"They're two separate issues," said Goodall. "I think it provides time for the Legislature and the Judiciary Committee to hear the bill. We feel that this will help remove politics, to the greatest extent possible, and some of the emotions surrounding the issue."

Not all Democrats agreed that the moratorium was necessary. After breaking from an extended caucus, some Democrats expressed frustration with the emergency move.

Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, told a reporter before the vote that the emergency bill was a "hijacking."

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, co-chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, left the Democratic caucus early after learning that Wilson's bill was being moved to Judiciary. Last week the House had referenced the bill to Gerzofsky's committee, but Democratic leaders changed their mind after the issue blew up.

Any change to the state's FOAA law is subject to review by Judiciary regardless of which committee hears the entire bill. Gerzofsky said Wilson's bill was about concealed weapons and that historically was handled by Criminal Justice.

"It's all bull (expletive)," Gerzofsky said. "Bull (expletive) and politics. I'll vote for it but I don't like it."

Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, one of 11 who voted against the bill, said the urgency attached to the emergency bill was manufactured for political gain.

"We're using this as a political football," he said. " ... This is not an emergency, this is a political emergency.

The Sportsman's Alliance of Maine argues that making the information secret is necessary in the wake of a New York newspaper's publication of the names and addresses of concealed weapons permit holders.

On the other hand, the hunting and conservation group has frequently used the state's FOAA law to obtain contact information from hunting and fishing license holders -- also public information. Hunting license holders are not necessarily concealed-weapons permit holders.

David Trahan, executive director of SAM, said that the FOAA request predated his tenure at the organization and that the alliance no longer planned to use the state's license database. Trahan added that the previous requests were never meant to publish the names and addresses of license holders.

The Bangor Daily News rescinded its request for the information last week and said that it never had plans for a context-free publication of permit holders' names and addresses, but had intended to use the data for ongoing projects on domestic violence. The explanation didn't wash with gun rights activists, who started a boycott of the newspaper and urged advertisers to quit doing business with the paper.

The second request for information on concealed-weapon remains somewhat mysterious.

It was submitted from a gmail account, "CelebrationConnect @gmail.com." Dan Heskett, a native Mainer who moved to Celebration, Fla., in 2012, said he registered the domain name celebrationconnect.com at the time of his move, but said he did not submit the FOAA request.

-- State House Writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:


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