Across the Fruited Plain: Concealed Carry Confidentiality
By Chad D. Baus
As the fight to restore the right to bear arms for self-defense was waged in various states, one of the toughest opponents to attempts to reform the law was the establishment media. With rare exception, newspaper editorial boards repeatedly took the side of legislators and gun ban extremists who prefer to view citizens more as subjects.
Thanks in no small part to media meddling, many states' laws were first passed with onerous provisions (anti-gun poison pills) that pro-gun rights activists are now methodically laboring to remove.
One of the more common items inserted as a poison pill in many states under pressure from the establishment media was a public records provision. "We have to make sure," the editorial boards claimed, "that the 'right' people are getting licenses." But in the months and years after concealed carry laws took effect, it quickly became clear the media had far less noble intentions.
Instead of reporting, each time an armed robbery, home invasion, or car-jacking occurred, that the violent attacker did NOT have a license to carry, the news media set about to publish lists containing the private, personal information of license-holders, not unlike the state publishes records about registered sex offenders.
In my home state of Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealer was one of many news entities to obtain and publish a list of licensees after prodding from the Ohio Newspaper Association. Just a few days after the first list was published, one of the license-holders on that list - a Cleveland store-owner - was dead, having been ambushed by violent armed robbers as he came to work one morning. Many wondered why the criminals knew they needed to get the jump on the store-owner. Had they read his name in the newspaper?
Other early problems with Ohio's concealed carry law, which was written to specifically declare the records of license-holders private, and then to allow journalists access to the "private" records, included the sheriffs in at least two counties releasing private information beyond that enumerated in the media access loophole. Additionally, at least one license-holder's guns were stolen from his home after having his status as a gun owner published in the newspaper, and a prison guard was tracked down by a former inmate by using a list published in the local paper.
Gun rights activists fought back. In the case of the Plain Dealer and Sandusky Register, editors had their own information - truly public information - compiled and published on pro-gun websites such as BuckeyeFirearms.org. Telephone numbers, maps to their homes, deeds to houses, and even divorce records were displayed as examples of how such records could be used against individuals or family members who found themselves on lists such as the ones the newspapers were creating.
In the end, two years after the media access loophole was inserted as a poison pill in Ohio's concealed carry law, Buckeye state legislators reformed the law, making it illegal for journalists to copy the records.
Battles over concealed carry confidentiality are currently ongoing in at least ten other states across the country.
Legislation seeking to close access to concealed carry records was introduced in North Carolina this spring, but has not yet received committee attention. Legislation has already moved in Tennessee and Oregon, but with disappointing results. Although it received overwhelming approval by each states' House of Representatives (54-4 in Oregon and 83-12 in Tennessee, state senators had a different take. Tennessee senators narrowly rejected a colleague's Senate Bill 1126 by 14-13 vote, and the Oregon Senate refused to vote on House Bill 2727.
On the other hand, in an impressive show in Alabama, both the House and Senate passed the legislation unanimously, and Gov. Bob Riley signed the bill into law on May 21. Additionally, Bills have already been passed into law in Arkansas and Virginia, but grassroots leaders there remain unsatisfied with the final outcome.
According to Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), Virginia law changed this year to block release of concealed handgun permit (CHP) info from the State Police, which holds a central database of all CHP holders. But there's a catch.
"There is a loophole that allows local Circuit Courts to give out their own info for that court," Van Cleave notes. "We are planning on closing that loophole next year. I think we have a 70% chance of doing so, depending on the elections later this year. It's just not good enough and we need to fix it."
Motivation to change the law in that state came about after the Roanoke Times published a complete database of CHP holder information on the Internet.
"The uproar was so intense that they dropped that site within a day or two and have never gone anywhere near doing such a thing again," Van Cleave noted. "The Attorney General put a block on the State Police right after it happened and that is what was formally codified this year."
In Arkansas, where (like so many other states) motivation to reform the law came about after the irresponsible actions of a newspaper, pro-gun activists were even more dissatisfied with passage of their confidentiality bill.
John Anderson, who serves as Communications Director of the Arkansas Concealed Carry Association (ACCA), said their concealed carry privacy bill came about because a local paper, the Arkansas Times, published a list in a copy-cat move after a list ran in neighboring Tennessee.
"They thought what the Commercial Appeal did in Tennessee was funny, so they posted the Arkansas list kind of as a, 'see we can do it too' move," Anderson observed.
Initially, the volunteers at ACCA had every reason to be encouraged by efforts to close the lists.
"The bill had great public support and passed the Arkansas House on a 98-1 vote," Anderson said. "However, when it got to the Senate it was ground to a halt, stalled and allowed to languish."
"It was being lobbied against heavily here by the local press association. The Governor, who seems to crave positive press, but also claims to be pro-gun, managed to force a compromise on the bill by coming out against making gun permit information private.
"The 'compromise' was anything but," Anderson said. "It essentially made us compromise to the point where the list of names and zip codes are still considered public. We did manage to keep all information on the forms from being able to be published, but it was a very small victory."
Like Van Cleave's VCDL, the good people at ACCA say they'll be back next session next session, and that the issue "will be a very high priority for us."
In some states, privacy is not just a concern for concealed carry license-holders. After revelations that the Delaware State Police were maintaining a list of gun buyers for years (despite a state law that required the records to be destroyed after 60 days), efforts by local gun rights activists and the NRA have resulted in legislation which would provide legal purchasers of firearms a source of redress in the Delaware court system if their firearms purchase records are improperly handled or stored by the Delaware State Police. The bill has been passed in the Delaware House and Senate, and awaits the signature of Governor Jack Markell.
In Michigan, gun rights activists are working legislation to prevent firearms retailers from taking photographs of people who purchase firearms. According to an NRA-ILA legislative summary, this bill is in direct response to actions taken by some major retailers (such was WalMart) who, under threats of litigation from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have created video surveillance registries under their "Responsible Firearms Retailer Partnership." While the bill would allow stores to maintain their security surveillance, it would prevent recordings of gun and ammunition transactions for registration purposes.
"There were several reports of this [video recording] happening last year," said Brad Benzing, Legislative Liason for the (Michigan) Shooters' Alliance for Firearms Rights (SAFR). "[The bill sponsor] was approached and introduced the same Bill in the previous Session."
Unfortunately, SAFR's Benzing says the bill did not move last session, and, he adds, "I suspect that the same will transpire here."
While the "right to privacy" is spoken highly of by everyone from adulterous politicians to the ACLU, pro-gun activists across the fruited plain are finding that attitudes among the elites are much different when it comes to exercising one's right to bear arms for self-defense without the judgmental glare of the ignorant and uninformed. It is clear that, while progress is being made, the fight for concealed carry confidentiality is far from over.
Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman, and an NRA-certified firearms instructor.
 Days after Plain Dealer 'outing'; CHL-holder Bill Singleton is dead, August 4, 2004, http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/node/1667
 Law not followed in release of Lucas Co. CHL-holders' private information, September 15, 2004, http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/node/1761
 Did media list of gun owners put these 20 guns on the street? January 23, 2007, http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/node/3506
 Senate committee hears testimony on media access loophole, November 15, 2006, http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/node/3372
 What is the harm in publishing lists of concealed handgun license holders?, June 28, 2007, http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/node/3823
 SIGNED: General Assembly's first attempt at Media Access Loophole fix, December 28, 2006, http://www.buckeyefirearms.org/node/3468
 Gun purchase glitch raises questions, The News Journal, October 28, 2008, http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20081028/NEWS01/810280392
 Michigan: Consumer Protection Bill Assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, April 10, 2009, http://www.nraila.org/Legislation/Read.aspx?ID=4738