From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Concealed guns and the FOIA.

In Firearms, FOI on 5 March 2009 at 7:01 pm

It has been well publicized that some members of the legislature want to exempt information about concealed-carry permittees from the Freedom of Information Act. Success came a step closer today when the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill amending the FOIA.

It has also been well publicized that this was a non-issue until a few weeks ago, when the Arkansas Times, which supports this blog, pointed out that the names and addresses of concealed-carry holders are publicly available and linked to them. But what the Times deemed a public service others deemed a menace. The posting mobilized concealed-carry holders and inspired a number of truly disturbing death threats to Max Brantley, editor of the Times.

The virulence of that response has made it difficult for me to consider the merits of hiding information about concealed-carry holders. Surely there must be some; according to this AP article, 21 states don’t allow access to concealed-carry information.

But few of the arguments I heard today in favor of the bill made much sense to me. They included:

1. The very nature of a concealed permit is that no one knows about it.

2. Now the “bad guys” know where the “good guys” are. From now on it will be very easy for the bad guys to break into the good guys’ cars and steal their weapons.

3. Undercover agents who carry concealed weapons will be exposed, since the right to carry a concealed weapon would be inconsistent with their undercover roles. (Crooks can’t carry.) Parole officers will also be vulnerable to malicious types among their clientele.

4. Do we out people who hide communicable diseases? Then why do we out people who hide weapons? It’s the exact same thing.

(Click on the link below to read more.)

Number 4 can be dismissed out of hand. (Gun owners are a self-selecting bunch. AIDS sufferers can’t say the same. Not to mention that it takes a bit more effort for the AIDS sufferer to kill you.) Number 1 is true enough, but the supposed point of concealed carry is to provide protection from the common crook on the street. A permit holder’s name, address, phone number, bank PIN and social security number could be in a publicly accessible database and it wouldn’t matter to the common crook on the street. That’s not true for Number 2, someone who takes the time to track a concealed-permit carrier’s car, but I still find it a stretch that the information in question is used in this way.

That leaves Number 3. This, I think, is a fairly legitimate concern. But there are also ways around the problem that don’t entail revoking the entire concealed-carry database. For example, there could be a law saying that undercover agents and state employees who work with criminals should have their information redacted. These employees have presumably been double-vetted since they occupy positions of authority.

Here’s the meta-problem with the logic of those who would exempt concealed-carry information from FOI: they really believe in categorizing people as either “good guys” or “bad guys.” Moreover, it appears that they believe those categorizations to be fairly static. A good guy remains a good guy, and a bad guy remains a bad guy. Sure, there are rules to ensure that a person’s permit is renewed every five years. For the interim, however, the concealed weapon is assumed to be carried for the force of light.

This thinking is belied by the death threats to Max Brantley, which presumably — just going out on a limb here — came from concealed-carry holders.

The argument that Times publisher Alan Leveritt made to the committee today was dismissed as “a great piece of theater” by the concealed-carry representative who followed him. Personally I believe it was given out of genuine anger. In any case, it carried more reason that anything the opposite side had to offer. If an ex-lover is being stalked, Leveritt said, it’s probably in her interest to know whether her stalker is carrying a weapon. If a convicted felon is carrying, the public should know that. (But wait, said concealed-carry supporters — NO felons have permits in Arkansas…)

Of course, Leveritt’s logic doesn’t work if you believe in the good guy/bad guy dichotomy, if you think a rotten apple stays rotten and a good one never goes bad. A more realistic (and less paranoid) outlook, on the other hand, realizes that there’s more to the issue than a thug crouching in the shadows just waiting to break into your car and steal your gun.

  1. […] weapons! A snarky blog post leads to possible legislation that will limit public access to information on who’s packin’. Also wasting legislators’ time: Another fruitless go-round with the Equal Rights […]

  2. When Mr. Leveritt went on his tirade when he spoke in opposition to the bill he claimed three things that were patently false.

    One; he claimed that they didn’t publish the information at all, they simply linked to the information which was at the Arkansas State Police website. Well anyone with a brain could see that the data base Max published was clearly on the Arkansas Times servers.

    Second, he claimed that the reaon Max pulled the link was because he feared for his own life, which is contrary to what he said in an Interview on KARN and what he wrote on his blog and on his Twitter page. He begrudgingly admitted that in “a limited number of cases” he could see that there was some genuine concern and thats why he took down the information.

    Third; He seemed to infer the reason the list was published was for some sort of critique or study of the information. Which clearly it was not. The title of the post pretty much explains the motives, “Annals of gun nuttery” I believe it was. Also he encouraged readers to “search for their friends and neighbors.” What was journalistic about that? “Freedom of the press” might have saved Brantley’s post if it was only clear what piece of investigative reporting he was trying to uncover.

    Yes it is unfortunate that some felt the need to do what Max claims was done to him but Max and you have incorrectly attributed the attacks to Arkansas Concealed Carry holders – there is no way you could know this for sure. At least two national websites picked up the story that I wrote on the ARCCA website about what the Times did so undoubtably he could have recieved phone calls and such from abroad. Also most of the attacks appeared to be coming from his own echo chamber, one that requires registration to comment. I would also just like to add that people who have concealed carry permits nation wide are more law abiding than the general public. That is a fact.

    Does it excuse it, no? Does it excuse what Max did either, no!

    The point is this would have never happened if Max didnt do what he did, in the way he did it. Mr. Leveritt claimed that the reason the list was published was to instruct, to inform. And admittedly if this was actually the case it might not have been that big of a deal, especially if they had done the prudent thing, the responsible thing and redact specific information like addresses (something even the Commercial Appeal did). But Max didnt do that, he published that list out of spite with an intent to intimidate and harrass. He encouraged readers to check the list for friends and neighbors. That was increadibly irresponsible, even John Brummett agrees on that point.

    That was not journalism, it was not constructive in it’s nature. it was bias, it was ideology. And everyone at the Times seems to have this martyr complex over not being considered a legitimate journalistic paper.

    I wonder why.

  3. […] weapons! A snarky blog post leads to possible legislation that will limit public access to information on who’s packin’. Also wasting legislators’ time: Another fruitless go-round with the Equal Rights […]

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