March 14, 2013

Our View: Concealed carry permits are public documents

Government officials can make mistakes and should not be left to operate without oversight.

A permit to carry a concealed weapon is a government document. A government official reviewed an application and made a decision. It's a decision that affects the whole community, not just the applicant.

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Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, introduces his bill, An Act to Ensure the Confidentiality of Concealed Weapons Permit Holder Information, March 12 at the State House in Augusta.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

It is a public record.

Changing that is what's behind a bill that would seal public records and make them the exclusive property of the government. No one could look over the government's shoulder, which is a dangerous way to do business.

Why? Because the government is not always right. Government officials make mistakes. Some are dishonest. Things that are supposed to happen sometimes don't. Things that are not supposed to happen sometimes do.

Unfortunately, this bill has been cast as an issue of constitutional rights because it involves the emotional flashpoint issue of guns. Supporters of state Rep. Cory Wilson's bill to permanently hide the names of 30,000 people issued concealed weapons permits in Maine claim to be championing gun owners' rights. But this bill would do nothing to protect gun owners.

These public records have been accessible for decades without incident. Making them secret now does not give gun owners any more freedom to buy, possess or carry a firearm -- concealed or not -- than they have right now. It doesn't change the criteria for receiving a permit; it just changes who gets to know about it.

If this bill becomes law, government officials will be able to operate with no oversight. Without knowing who received these permits, there is no way to determine if they were issued properly.

A more serious concern of the bill's supporters is the privacy of permit applicants, who have to supply more than their names and addresses to be approved. Applicants have to supply their birth dates, which could be used by identity thieves. They may be asked to supply medical records if there is any history of mental illness. Domestic violence victims may have to report addresses they would rather not share with their abusers.

If these issues were addressed in the broad context of personal information collected and held by the government, this bill would make more sense. If a domestic abuse victim's address should be secret, it should be secret on all public records, not just concealed carry permits.

But protecting privacy in only one public document does not achieve what the bill's supporters say they want. Lawmakers should not be swept up in the emotion of this issue.

No one is trying to take away anyone's guns. There is no good reason to take these public records away from public view.


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