Amendment Would Withhold All Permit Info From Public
Posted: February 9, 2013
By PRESTON KNIGHT
HARRISONBURG — Megan Rhyne wasn’t expecting a fight this year to keep information about concealed-handgun permits open to the public.
But a House of Delegates committee fired her up Friday.
A bill proposed by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, would prohibit circuit court clerks in Virginia from releasing handgun permit information only for people shielded by protective orders.
Current law makes all permit owners’ information public through the court system. But Obenshain argues that’s a problem because “attackers” can track down where their victims live if those victims have a concealed-handgun permit.
Some newspapers have published names and addresses of permit holders.
Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, supported Obenshain’s measure, which passed the Senate last week.
But the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety on Friday replaced the bill with a substitute: prohibit the sharing of any permit carrier’s information to the public.
That’s an idea Rhyne has fought for years, concerned that some judges would interpret regulations so broadly as to hand out permits to “anyone who walks through the door.”
“There should be public accountability [in a government process],” she said. “We need to verify permits are being correctly accepted or correctly rejected. But when they are closed off like this, we can’t. …
“We were denied four weeks of time we could have lobbied on this.”
The Senate has rejected the broader proposals in previous years at the committee level, while the House has accepted them.
In an interview Friday evening, Obenshain said the Virginia Court Clerks Association informed him Thursday that it had “technical problems” with his bill, such as the possibility it would encourage people to provide false statements when applying for permits.
The easiest, “common sense” fix was the House committee substitute, he said.
“There is no exercise in discretion in the process,” Obenshain said, answering Rhyne’s argument of the loss of accountability. “If our process was one where judges had to make a factual determination … I would say that [she] might be right. It’s all ministerial. As long as I meet the legal requirements to obtain a concealed-carry permit, I get it.”
Dels. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, and Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, are members of the House committee that voted Friday. The bill passed by a 16-6 vote, with only Democrats opposing it.
The full House will decide on the bill next week.
One Democrat, Del. Lynwood Lewis Jr., D-Accomac, sided with the 15 Republicans on the panel.
“It boiled down to the fact that the substitute was more to our liking and was consistent with what we’ve done in the past,” Gilbert said. “We feel that it’s important to protect everyone’s privacy rights [on gun ownership] in this regard.
“It was a great bill to start with. We just made it better.”
Obenshain thinks there’s enough support in the Senate for the broader measure to finally pass the chamber.
“It won’t be universal,” he adds. “It’ll have enough.”