Skip to comments.(VA) State advisory council to examine privacy of handgun permit list
Posted on 03/20/2007 10:49:38 AM PDT by Perseverando
The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council will study whether it can restrict access to the list of people with concealed-handgun permits.
By Michael Sluss (804) 697-1585
RICHMOND -- A state advisory council will examine the possibility of restricting access to information about Virginians who are licensed to carry concealed handguns, responding to a controversy sparked by The Roanoke Times.
The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council on Monday created a subcommittee to study the protection of "personal identifying information." Among other things, the group will consider the merits of allowing public access to a state police database listing the names and addresses of every Virginian with a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
"This group has got some good public policy work cut out for it," said state Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania County, the chairman of the council.
The council is made up of state legislators, government officials, media representatives and citizens.
The Roanoke Times ignited a firestorm last week when it posted the database on its Web site along with a column by editorial writer Christian Trejbal. The newspaper removed the database from its site the following day, but continues to receive criticism for posting the information.
Del. Dave Nutter, R-Christiansburg, has asked for an attorney general's opinion on whether the state police should provide such information. That opinion and the advisory council's work could pave the way for legislation that would restrict access to the data.
Nutter told the council that he hopes to "find a middle ground that, bottom line, prevents a list like this from being put out in the public domain."
"It doesn't mean it wouldn't be available in other places," said Nutter, who later noted that the information still could be obtained from city and county circuit court clerks.
Jim Kadison, a member of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the advisory council should focus on preventing "abuse of the list" without restricting all public access to the data. The VCDL has requested the state police data through the Freedom of Information Act and has used it to identify potential members, Kadison said. Kadison raised the idea of allowing permit holders to have their names removed from lists provided to the public.
Since February 2005, the Department of State Police has received 17 requests under FOIA for lists of Virginians with concealed-handgun permits, according to information the agency released at The Roanoke Times' request last week.
Four of those requests came from political organizations, including one each from the state Democratic and Republican parties. Four came from newspapers, three came from VCDL and one came from Republican Del. Scott Lingamfelter of Prince William County.
The Virginia Freedom of Information Council has previously held that the gun permit list is a public record. In a 2001 advisory opinion, the council's executive director, Maria Everett, wrote that "no specific statutory exemptions" apply to the list. The opinion was issued in response to a Chesterfield County permit holder who had received solicitations and political mailings addressed to "Virginia Gun Owner" and "Concealed Handgun Permit Holder."
Virginia and 16 other states treat information about concealed-handgun permit holders as a public matter, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Houck said the advisory council must weigh the public's interest in accessing the information against the privacy concerns of permit holders.
"I really think it's a classic example of when two fundamental rights are bumping up against each other," Houck said.
Staff writer Laurence Hammack contributed to this report.
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