Handgun registration records are exempt from disclosure
MICHIGAN–The state Supreme Court in Lansing unanimously held in late June that the names and addresses of persons who own registered handguns are exempt from disclosure under the state Freedom of Information Act. Releasing the information would violate the privacy of gun owners, the court said.
Fred Mager, who advocates changing the state’s law regarding the carrying of firearms, requested the records in February 1996, in hopes of recruiting other gun owners to his cause. Mager’s request was denied by the state police, who cited the privacy exemption in the state’s records law. Although Mager lost an appeal to a Lansing trial court in August 1996, he persuaded an appellate court in Lansing in December 1997 to hold that releasing the information would not implicate gun owners’ privacy.
The high court disagreed. After examining a long line of its decisions interpreting the privacy exemption, the court noted that the legislature had provided little statutory guidance in what the court called “a highly subjective area of law.” The court then noted that the privacy exemption contains two elements: whether the information is of a personal nature, and whether releasing that information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy.
Information on gun ownership is of a personal nature, the court concluded.
“The ownership and use of firearms is a controversial subject,” the court stated, adding that knowledge that a household contains firearms may make the house a target of thieves, thus endangering the occupants.
The court called the decision to purchase and own a handgun “a personal decision of considerable importance.”
“We have no doubt that gun ownership is an intimate or, for some persons, potentially embarrassing detail of one’s personal life,” the court noted. Disclosing such information would therefore constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy, it held.
Looking to U.S. Supreme Court precedents, the court concluded that fulfilling a request for information on private citizens invaded their privacy in cases where the request was not related to inquiries into the proper functioning of government.
(Mager v. Dept. of State Police)