CONTRIBUTORS

Weighing privacy, gun rights

Posted March 17, 2013, at 4:24 p.m.

Last week, the state Judiciary Committee heard testimony on LD 345, a proposal to permanently shield the public from concealed weapon permit information. Every year the Legislature reviews a number of gun-related bills.

This year, any bill related to guns has received even more attention in light of recent tragedies such as the one in Newtown, Conn. This is understandable. It’s our responsibility to carefully examine all sides of the issue when it comes to what steps lawmakers must take to prevent tragedies in the future.

However, LD 345 received even greater attention after the BDN requested the information under the Freedom of Access Act. While many see this measure as a gun issue, many others see it as a “right to know” issue. In my opinion, it’s both, and it needs a balanced approach of review and action.

This is neither a Democratic issue nor a Republican issue. You’ll find people of both parties supportive of and against LD 345. And last month, when the BDN requested the list of names of concealed carry holders, the Legislature acted swiftly to pass a temporary measure that I co-sponsored to shield this information for 60 days — allowing the Legislature enough time to be thoughtful and deliberative while considering LD 345.

Democrats have long supported gun rights in Maine. In fact, Democrats sponsored what became Article I, Section 16 of the Maine Constitution, which reads, “Every citizen has a right to keep and bear arms and this right shall never be questioned.” It passed unanimously in the Democratic-controlled Senate, with only three votes against it in the Democratic-controlled House.

In my opinion, there’s another aspect to this issue. The question is not: Should concealed weapons permits be subject to FOAA requests? As public records, the answer is yes. The question is: Should these permits be public records?

The Legislature debated this very question in 1981 when it established guidelines for issuing concealed weapons permits. The original bill, as drafted by Democrat Merle Nelson of Portland, called for all applications and supporting documentation connected to concealed weapons permits to be confidential, meaning it would not be part of the public record and therefore not subject to FOAA.

In committee, the bill was amended to make the application confidential, but the permit would be a public record.

Supporters of this bill included the Police Chiefs Association, the Maine Municipal Association, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and what is now the National Rifle Association.

But as Bob Dylan told us, “The times, they are a-changin.”

Nearly 30 years ago, it may have made sense to keep concealed weapon permit information in the public record, but we saw how dangerous that can be in these times after a newspaper in New York published the names and addresses of people with concealed weapons permits.

There are exceptions to every rule. If the Legislature should decide that concealed weapons permits remain public records, we must still recognize the special circumstances of certain individuals, such as domestic violence survivors, and make exceptions for them.

We already make exceptions to public records laws for domestic violence survivors through the Address Confidentiality Program, created by the Legislature in 2002. This program provides services to victims of of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to shield them from their abusers. One of those services allows the survivors to vote without revealing their home address, a necessary precaution since the voter file is a public record.

We also need to protect identifying information of law enforcement. They, too, could be compromised personally and professionally if their information were to be made public.

So what is the next step? Personally, as a gun owner proud of my strong ratings from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and my lifetime A rating from the National Rifle Association, I will continue fighting to make sure the rights of law-abiding gun owners are protected.

I believe concealed weapons permits should not be public records and that permit holders’ right to privacy should be protected. But these are my opinions. The work of the Judiciary Committee has just begun on this issue. And I know that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle will continue asking thoughtful questions and deliberating the consequences of any action.

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, serves as assistant majority leader.

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