Concealed permits: Gun records even more secret with new law
What is it about forbidden fruit that makes it so irresistible? For example, we'd never really thought about looking up concealed handgun carry permits until the General Assembly passed a law making those records confidential July 1, and suddenly, all we could think about was looking at soon-to-be-concealed gun records.
Guess what? They're already virtually inaccessible to the public, and when the Hook went to see who's holding some of the 576 permits applied for so far this year in Albemarle County on June 26— five days in advance of the new law— they'd already been taken offline and removed from public access. "Richmond cut them off," blames Albemarle Clerk Debbie Shipp.
And it's not like there was ever a list of names that the public could peruse. Searchers had to enter a name into the public terminal to find out if someone has a concealed weapon permit.
Over at Charlottesville Circuit Court, Clerk Llezelle Dugger says the records already were un-FOIA-able. She'd gotten a Freedom of Information Act request that was withdrawn when she pointed out to the sender it would cost big bucks for her staff to copy the permit at 50 cents a page, and redact the Social Security number for each of the concealed-gun permit holders.
Her records go back to the 1950s, she says. Although the permits are only good for five years, the new statute doesn't specify whether she has to secure the old records as well.
"It's the most labor intensive new law," says Dugger. "Every clerk's office has hard files, orders, online records. Some have order books." Dugger is going to have to secure the box where the 111 gun permits so far for 2013 are kept, while trying not to have her staff walking back and forth to a locked area. "We use them so much," she says.
Since she's been in office, Dugger says, "I've had one or two calls to see if Joe Smith has a concealed permit."
"We keep them basically private anyway," says Shipp. Albemarle's current concealed carry permits were only available to the public on a terminal, and she's not worrying about the old ones filed by date in the general index books.
So what was the urgency to get the bill carried by Republican state senator/AG candidate Mark Obenshain on the books, making them accessible only to law enforcement?
"Senator Obenshain believes private citizens shouldn't risk having private information released," says Paul Logan, Obenshain's communications director. He cites the Gannett-owned Journal News in New York that printed an interactive map of names and addresses of handgun permit holders in two counties following the Sandy Hook Elementary mass murders. The problem, says Logan, is that the map disclosed the new addresses of handgun-owning victims of domestic violence. The Roanoke Times put up a list of all Virginia's concealed carry permit holders in 2007, and pulled the story the next day, Logan adds.
It's not only newspapers that are interested in who is licensed to conceal. The Republican Party of Virginia FOIAed circuit clerks for names of permit holders in advance of the new law because, opines the Richmond Times Dispatch, "Gun enthusiasts lean Republican."
Obenshain doesn't believe even his own party should have access to who is secretly carrying a gun, says Logan.
"It was a public safety matter, " he says. "This closed a loophole."
So now the only way to find out who's packing heat is to ask. And yes, according to his spokesman, Senator Obenshain does have a concealed weapon permit.