NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · VIRGINIA · Freedom of Information · April 9, 2007
Access to concealed gun permit information cut off
April 9, 2007 · The Virginia State Police will no longer provide the names and addresses of residents allowed to carry concealed handguns after the attorney general issued an opinion saying release of the information is discretionary.
Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell said any list of individuals permitted to carry concealed handguns might include crime victims and witnesses, and, thus, could be considered exempt from release under Virginia’s open records law. McDonnell also said releasing the information to the public is at odds with the law enforcement investigatory purpose for creating the list.
Frosty Landon, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, disagreed with the ruling, saying it overturned the presumptions set in Virginia law that government information is open and that exceptions should be construed narrowly.
“The ruling, if it were to stand, would do great harm to the state access law philosophy,” Landon said. “The default is for openness broadly construed and any exemption is to be narrowly construed.”
The Roanoke Times sparked a debate over the permit list last month when it posted on its Web site the list it received pursuant to an open records request. Public outcry led the paper to pull the information off its Web site the next day.
The attorney general issued his opinion on Friday after a request for an advisory ruling by Dave Nutter, a member of the House of Delegates from Christiansburg. While the opinion is not binding on the state police, a spokeswoman told The Roanoke Times that it was treating the opinion as legal advice and cutting off public access to the information, which was subject to 17 Freedom of Information Act requests over the past two years.
Landon said lawmakers in their 2008 session will almost certainly take up how much information should be publicly available on people with concealed handgun permits. Pressure will come not just from the open government community, but also from pro-gun groups, which have used the permit information for recruiting and lobbying purposes.
A subcommittee of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, a state agency with members that include open government advocates, has been studying the issue and is expected to provide options to the legislature, Landon said.
“We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves and see if there is any way to build consensus – short of shutting down this record entirely,” Landon said.
(Virginia Att’y Gen. Op. 07-027) — NW