|NMU||WYOMING||Freedom of Information||Nov 25, 2002|
Newspaper cannot see concealed weapons permits
- The state Supreme Court denied a Gillette newspaper access to concealed weapons permits, arguing that disclosing such information defeats the purpose of the law allowing the permits.
Permits for concealed weapons are not public records in Wyoming, according to a Nov. 19 state Supreme Court decision.
The court held that a state statute allowing permit holders to carry concealed weapons did not allow for the release of this information.
In September 2000, The News-Record in Gillette asked the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigations to provide a list of people living within Campbell County who had a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
The DCI denied the request and after it filed a petition with the state legislature, the legislature passed a law stating that information concerning concealed weapons is not public record.
The court held that the legislature did not want the information released, and that release would be “contrary to the very nature of the statute.”
But the newspaper maintained that under the original law, it had a right to gain access to the records. The Wyoming Supreme Court disagreed. The court held that the state legislature’s amendment barring the release of concealed weapons permits applied retroactively.
“Simply put, what good is a concealed weapon permit if the identity of those who are issued such a permit is of general public knowledge? If we were to hold that lists of those issued concealed weapon permits may be released to the general public, such would defeat the very purpose of the concealed weapons law itself.”
An increase in the number of weapons permits issued sparked the newspaper’s interest in gaining access to permit information. As the laws for issuing weapons permits changed, the number of permit holders in Campbell County rose from just a handful to four hundred in just two years.
“We just wanted to double check and make sure that DCI was doing its job properly and then we were going to report on it fairly and accurately,” said Ann Franscell, News-Record publisher and editor
“This decision is unfortunate, it is one more loss for government openness,” said Jim Angell, executive director of the Wyoming Press Association.
Angell said that allowing the public to see who had a concealed weapon would help the press and the public to make sure the government was not giving a concealed weapons permit to someone who should not have one.
In other states, media have shown that violent felons and other criminals have been issued concealed weapons permits using similar records.
“The [Wyoming] Supreme Court has been consistent in ruling for public access,” Angell said. “I hope this decision is an isolated one.”
(Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation v. Gillette News Record; Media lawyer: Michael J. Krampner, Krampner, Fuller and Hambrick, L.L.C.) — GS
© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press