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Weapons permits may go secret
Bill would close access to state database of concealed handgun permits

Date published: 12/4/2007

BY CHELYEN DAVIS

RICHMOND--A state police database of concealed handgun permit holders would be off-limits to the public under legislation proposed yesterday by the state's Freedom of Information Advisory Council.

Reacting to a furor over The Roanoke Times' publishing of the database earlier this year, the council yesterday voted in favor of putting in a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would remove the database from public disclosure.

Currently anyone who receives a permit to carry a concealed weapon must provide their name, address and other personal information, which is then stored in court records and provided to the state police.

If the bill were to pass, anyone could still access the information on permit holders by going to each individual court clerk's office. But, said proponents of the proposed bill, that would make it a lot harder on anyone seeking the information for nefarious purposes, such as stalking someone.

House Majority Leader Del. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said many people get concealed weapons permits after they've been victims of a crime, such as stalking.

"This is information that in many cases can be dangerous to the individuals," he said.

Taking the database out of the public domain wouldn't necessarily prevent those people from being found by, say, an ex-husband, but the person looking for them would have to know which locality they were living in to find the information, Griffith said.

But at least one FOIA council member argued that it doesn't make sense to limit the way the information can be disseminated but not the fact that it's public at all.

"It's a little bit insulting to the public as customers to say that it's ok for them to get it as long as it's inconvenient," said Craig Fifer of Alexandria.

The council, in an earlier subcommittee, had discussed allowing groups like political parties and nonprofit gun or hunting advocacy groups to still have access to the database--in much the same way voter lists are available to political parties--but eventually decided against that.

Philip Van Cleave, of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, told the committee he hoped they'd return the exemption for gun groups like his.

"This is kind of overkill the way it is right now," Van Cleave said. "We've had access for 10 years and we've done so responsibly."

The Citizens Defense League opposes the publishing of the same list, in particular by newspapers. The Free Lance-Star publishes new concealed weapons permits.

Griffith said he doesn't think anything in the proposed bill would bar a newspaper from printing information about concealed carry permit holders that it gets from courthouses. It would require only the state police to withhold the full database.

There also doesn't appear to be anything in the proposed bill that bars courts from putting the permits online, as they do with many documents.

Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania, said he thought the proposal was "a good balance."

Chelyen Davis: 804/782-9362
Email: cdavis@freelancestar.com