The Times West Virginian

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Opinion

February 19, 2014

Legal concealed carry and open government must both be preserved

We’re a strong supporter of the right of West Virginians to legally and responsibly own and use firearms.

That includes the ability to obtain a state license to carry a concealed deadly weapon (pistols or revolvers). That process involves applying to the county sheriff, paying a $75 fee and completing an application, as prepared by the superintendent of the West Virginia State Police, in writing. This ensures that the licensing requirements are met by the applicant.

We’re also an equally strong supporter of open government.

That’s why we have concerns with Senate Bill 198, that would make all information on deadly weapons permits exempt from the public, the media and the Freedom of Information Act. Law enforcement would have access.

Don Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association, notes that it’s a “bill that would change current state code to make applications, permits and renewal applications for deadly weapons permits exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests from all sources.”

Such legislation, which was also introduced last year, has its roots with the Dec. 14, 2012, mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Adam Lanza, 20, fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members before, as first-responders arrived, he took his own life.

In the aftermath, a New York newspaper made a decision to publish the names and addresses of area gun owners. The newspaper obtained the information by way of New York’s Freedom of Information Law requests.

There has not been use of such information by the media in West Virginia.

Robert Freeman, executive director of New York’s Committee on Open Government, noted in an interview last year with The Journal in Martinsburg that acquiring a license, such as a concealed-carry permit, is simply a legal process.

“Historically, a license, in my opinion, has been intended to tell the world that an individual is qualified to engage in an act,” Freeman said, whether it be driving a car or handling a firearm. “The names and the addresses indicate that people have gotten their licenses and complied with law.”

There have been comparisons between medical privacy and the privacy of gun owners. We don’t believe them to be linked at all.

“You have to apply for these (licenses),” Smith told The Journal. “This is asking for a special right. I see no reason why that should be exempt.”

There are clear legal measures dealing with firearms, including a straightforward process to obtain a permit for concealed carry. There is no doubt they should be vigorously protected.

Open government, at the same time, is an American standard that should never be stripped away, not even bit by bit.

“The No. 1 thing that we’re concerned about is open government and having that information out there,” Smith said. “Every time that an exemption is granted, it’s one less area that the public can monitor its government and look out for its own interests.”

What government service would be the next to operate in virtual secrecy?

“Loss of public access is a slippery slope, and we cannot be sure of what will be considered next,” Smith said.

Legal concealed-carry permits and open government. We can responsibly have both.

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