June 18, 2018
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Amendment could make some handgun permit data available

By Scott Thistle, Sun Journal

AUGUSTA, Maine — The author of a bill that seals from public view the information on more than 30,000 concealed handgun permits in Maine said Friday he’s now open to allowing some access to the data.

Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, said he has prepared an amendment that would allow aggregate data from the permits to be released. It also would allow law enforcement and others who issue the permits to have access to the permit data.

The amendment also removes from Wilson’s bill a provision that would have prohibited and punished anyone who obtained the records when the release of the data was allowed.

“Meaning, if somebody already has it, they are allowed to use it because that conflicted with some segments of the constitution,” Wilson said. “I think those are reasonable compromises.”

Wilson said he supported the idea of releasing aggregate data on the permits including information such as the total number of permits in any given area, but wasn’t sure how much demographic data such as permit holder age or gender he would support releasing.

“I would have to think a little bit more on that but I would be open to those discussions,” Wilson said.

“But I do believe there’s a value in allowing some of that aggregate data to be released,” Wilson said. “Some people may have an interest in knowing how many individuals within a certain area have concealed-weapons permits.”

In February, the Legislature passed and Republican Gov. Paul LePage signed into law an emergency measure to close the permit records for 60 days.

The intent was to give lawmakers a full and deliberate debate of Wilson’s bill, which would permanently seal the records and exempt them from Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, the state’s open-records law.

The emergency law came into place after gun rights advocates and Republican lawmakers expressed concern over a request for the data from the Bangor Daily News.

While the newspaper insisted it did not intend to publish “wholesale” the names and addresses of those with concealed-handgun permits, it said it wanted access to the information for long-term reporting projects on domestic violence and drug trafficking. It later rescinded the request for the data, but lawmakers said another anonymous request could put at risk the safety or compromise the identities of those with concealed-handgun permits and moved forward with the emergency bill.

Before the change, the permit data were part of the public record for nearly 30 years. Information on those permits included name, address and year of birth. Open-government advocates argued there had never been a negative result of having the data public and the benefit of leaving the information public outweighed any risks to individual gun owners.

Wilson said Friday he was hopeful proposed changes to his bill would make it palatable for members of the Democratic majority.

On Thursday, Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, a co-author of the emergency bill, said he still supported sealing the records but also wanted aggregate data to be available and for law enforcement to have access to the data.

“In some cases, maybe even certain individuals should have access to certain portions of the information,” McCabe said. “But as far as large lists, that just screams as a little bit of McCarthyism to me.”

Wilson’s bill is schedule for a public hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, March 12.

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