AUGUSTA, Maine — A proposal to keep the identities of concealed weapons permit holders secret is working its way through the Legislature in an emergency bill that already has more than 60 legislative sponsors, the majority of them Republicans.
“An Act to Ensure the Confidentiality of Concealed Weapons Permit Holder Information” came before the House of Representatives for the first time Tuesday. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, would make personal and identifying information of concealed weapons permit holders confidential. The Maine State Police told the Bangor Daily News in 2010 that there were almost 30,000 concealed weapon permit holders in the state. A record of “good moral character,” an ability to handle a gun safely, completion of a four-page application and a $35 fee are among the requirements for the right to carry a hidden handgun, according to the law.
Wilson, who is serving his first term in the Legislature, said Tuesday that he submitted the bill in response to a newspaper in New York that controversially published the names and addresses of concealed weapons permit holders in its area days after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said his group asked Wilson to sponsor the legislation. Trahan confirmed that the proposal results directly from the New York newspaper’s publication of permit holders’ names. He noted that New York has since enacted legislation to make confidential personal information about concealed weapons permit holders.
Trahan shared a personal incident to make his case for the legislation. After an automobile accident, a group of young people threatened him.
“My worst fear at the time was for these people to know where I live,” he said. “I understand why a permit holder would have a permit for self-protection. The ability for anybody to find out where you live concerned me personally and our organization as a whole.”
Trahan further argued that keeping the identities of permit holders confidential enhances public safety because “the bad guys don’t know who has firearms, so that’s a deterrent.”
Wilson introduced his proposal as emergency legislation, which means that if the Legislature passes it and Gov. Paul LePage signs it, the law would take effect immediately. That pleases Trahan, who worries that allowing full public access to information about permit holders’ addresses makes people who fear for their safety more vulnerable. Law enforcement agencies would still know the names and addresses of concealed weapons permit holders, he said.
Trahan said he will urge legislative leaders to act quickly on Wilson’s legislation. Trahan said he’s heartened by the fact that Republicans and Democrats co-sponsored the proposal.
“I found all those co-sponsors within two days,” said Wilson. “They were all likewise concerned about this and questioned the need for this information to be put into the public domain.”
Mal Leary, president of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, said his group has not yet looked closely at the bill because it is so new, but was concerned that it would reach too far. For instance, Leary said any law that would make it difficult or impossible to determine how many concealed weapons permits are issued in Maine would violate the spirit of Maine’s Freedom of Information law. And he said there are good reasons why somebody might want to know whether a certain person holds a concealed weapons permit, such as determining that fact regarding a problematic neighbor.
“There’s a fine line between the issue of privacy versus public safety,” said Leary. “Maybe I want to know whether my neighbor has one. On the other hand, there’s a real justification for protecting that person and that address. These issues are not easy to resolve. If this bill is written too broadly, it has unintended consequences.”
As written, the bill requires municipalities or law enforcement agencies that issue concealed weapons permits to keep permanent records, which is already the law. The difference is that those records would be “kept confidential and may not be made available for public inspection or copying.” It also bars anyone who receives information about concealed weapons permits from redistributing it “to a person who is not authorized to receive the information.”
Trahan, who said he has no problem with publicizing aggregate information about Maine concealed weapon permit holders in general, said personal information should be private.
“What’s the valuable information? What would you gain?” he asked. “The only valuable tool is for the bad guy.”
“I couldn’t think of one good reason why this information should be subject to freedom of information but I could think of a number of reasons why it shouldn’t be,” said Wilson, who is a member of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “In New York there were a number of corrections officers and otherwise prominent people in the community who had permits. As a result [of the newspaper publishing their names and addresses], they and their families’ lives were put at risk. I felt it was important to prevent that scenario.”
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives referred the bill to the Judiciary Committee.
Robert Long, a political analyst for the BDN, contributed to this report.