Opinion

Bill to bar public access to gun permits off target

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Some state legislators want to conceal who’s carrying a concealed weapon.

House Bill 4310 would make information on concealed-carry permits and applications exempt from Freedom of Information Act inquiries.

This information would become strictly confidential except for law enforcement purposes.

At issue in this debate is not how widespread gun ownership is, how many applications for concealed-carry permits are rejected or even who’s got such a permit.

What HB 4310 does is paint a bull’s-eye on the public’s right to know. Plain and simple: If it’s concealed weapons permits this time — that the public is being denied access to — then what’s next?

Building permits, real estate transfers, bankruptcy filings, marriages and divorces, police logs, tax delinquencies and campaign finances could all be next.

A permit to carry a concealed weapon should not include a license to keep the public in the dark.

Last year, we reported nearly 400 Monongalia County residents applied for concealed-carry permits — in the first two months of 2013.

In a normal month about 50 renewals and new permits to carry a concealed weapon are issued in our county.

Many of those new applications then were in light of the Newtown, Conn., massacre and new cries for gun control.

We did not join that chorus for new gun control measures and we are not now, either. HB 4310 is not a Second Amendment issue.

The issue here is government secrecy vs. the need for transparency. Allowing governments to maintain secrets about concealed-carry permits is wrongheaded.

Access to such inherently public information is fundamental to our society. It’s the freedom of the press to study, probe and publish such information that keeps government and everyone honest.

Democracy and open government require vigilance and protections for basic freedoms. Not only through open civil debate and dissent, respect for the rule of law, and of course, the right to bear arms.

But also through checks and balances that ensure our leaders understand the limits of their rightful authority.

A concealed-carry permit is not a right.

It’s a privilege that requires the state’s approval — the people’s permission.

Just requiring a license for a concealed weapon speaks volumes about the public’s interest in knowing who has these permits.

The reservations of some about allowing the public access to this information may be sincere.

But it’s incredibly important to preserve the state’s focus and aim on transparency.

Efforts to prohibit the public from knowing such information embodied in HB 4310 misses the mark.

Click here for The Dominion Post e-edition.

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