Lawmakers Move Swiftly to Block Release of Gun Permit Records
Curious about whether your neighbor is armed? Wondering if local officials are illegally doling out gun permits to convicted felons? It may be impossible to find out, unless you live in one of a small and shrinking group of states.
Lawmakers in most states sealed such records in past years. (See map.) And this year, many others are rushing to join those ranks, spurred by a suburban New York newspaper’s publication of names and addresses of handgun permit holders. Critics said the newspaper infringed on gun owners’ privacy and put them in the crosshairs of burglars looking to swipe and swap legally owned weapons.
“Guns, pharmaceuticals and electronics are the primary things burglars are looking for when they rob a house,” says William Lamberth, a Nashville prosecutor-turned Republican state representative who is pushing a bill in Tennessee that would seal personal information about those permitted to carry handguns. “Once the list is out there, there’s no way to get it back in the bottle. Technology is the game changer here.”
Four states have blocked public access to gun records in two months since editors at The Journal News drew national attention — and threats of violence — by publishing an online map of permit holders in New York’s Westchester and Rockland Counties (the newspaper removed the names and address three days later), and several other states are debating similar measures.
Once the new state laws go into effect, only five states — Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia — will give the public unfettered access to information about those who hold concealed carry permits, and similar legislation is pending in most of those states.
California and Ohio provide the data with exceptions. In Ohio, for instance, only a credentialed journalist can request it. In that state a reporter can look at the records but not copy or remove them, making it impossible to cross-reference them with other lists.
The wave of legislation has rankled journalists and other government watchdogs, who say they should be able to scrutinize gun access at a time of heightened concerns about gun violence.
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