February 20, 2013

Our View: State should not seal concealed-carry records

Gun owners' rights are not at risk, but the public's right to oversee government could be.

Our form of government won't work in secret. We need the public's watchful eye to make sure that officials are doing their jobs correctly and to hold them accountable when they don't.

click image to enlarge

Maine House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty and Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, were part of a news conference about concealed weapons permits on Thursday at the State House in Augusta. Wilson has submitted a bill that would remove public access to the names of holders of concealed weapons permits.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

That's why this newspaper will never support moving government functions into the shadows by sealing public records, except in individual cases when release of the information would almost certainly cause harm.

So we can't be happy about the Legislature's and governor's decision to pass a temporary moratorium on the release of concealed-weapons permit information, but we recognize it could have been much worse.

There is a bill pending in the Legislature that would permanently hide all records of concealed-weapons permits. No public oversight would ever be permitted. That bill would have been a nonstarter most years, but a chain of events over the last three months seemed ready to change that.

First there was the tragic mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., which shocked the nation's conscience and gave new energy to advocates for gun control.

That fed the unjustified fear among some gun owners that the government would confiscate their weapons.

Then The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., published the names and addresses of all the concealed-weapons permit holders in two counties, further stoking those fears.

In this heated environment, the Bangor Daily News requested information from all Maine agencies that issue concealed-weapons permits. The newspaper said it would not publish the information, but it became the focus of criticism anyway, and, under fire, it withdrew its request.

If a two-month moratorium lets people look at the situation outside this emotionally charged chain of events, it would be worth it.

Before they seal these documents forever, proponents should show evidence of the harm that disclosure causes. That should be easy, since this information has been public for decades. And they should explain why the public would be safer if it let the government do its work in secret.

Ultimately, this is not about press freedom or gun ownership. It's about public oversight of government, and lawmakers interfere with that essential process at everyone's risk.


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