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Should Concealed Gun Permits Be Public?

May 9, 2010

By Shadae Lee
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The General Assembly recently killed a bill that would have kept the names of concealed weapons permit holders from the public.

The House voted 87-10 in favor of the proposal, House Bill 79, sponsored by Delegate Lee Ware, R-Powhatan. However, the bill died in the Senate Courts of Justice.

Here are dueling viewpoints on whether concealed gun permits should remain open to the public.

Pro: Keeping the records open can ensure that dangerous people don’t get permits

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition of Open Government, said people have a right to know who in their community has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. That way, they can monitor the permit process to make sure localities are processing applications properly, Rhyne said.

Last year, the Tennessee Legislature considered a law similar to Delegate Lee Ware’s proposal, according to Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.

“The only way for the public and press to know whether the government is issuing permits to people who shouldn’t have them is for the information to remain open,” Gibson said.

Rhyne agreed.

“Access to these records is not just about finding out who has a permit and whether those people should have a permit, but it is important,” she said.

“As long as permits for concealed weapons are required in Virginia, there should be some level of public access to them.”

Con: Having concealed weapons records open invades permit holders’ privacy

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizen Defense League, a gun rights group, said some individuals who have concealed weapons permit are hiding from violent ex-spouses or have had their lives threatened.

Delegate Lee Ware’s legislation would have made applications available to law-enforcement agencies but not to the general public.

In 2007, The Roanoke Times posted on its website a searchable database containing the names and addresses of more than 135,000 Virginians licensed to carry concealed weapons.

Some of those permit holders were members of the Virginia Citizen Defense League, and gun-rights groups complained vociferously about The Times’ action.

After the controversy, state officials announced that they would no longer make available a database of concealed weapons permits. Applications are still open for inspection, but only at the courthouse in the locality that issued the permit.

“The release of the names caused people’s lives to be put in jeopardy,” Cleave said.

Main Story: Gun Permits Are (Not So) Public Information