Maine’s Legislature is set to consider emergency legislation to “ensure the confidentiality of concealed weapons permit holder information.”
Or, in plain language, the draft bill is seeking to conceal the identities of anyone who holds a state-issued concealed weapon permit.
The legislation, presented by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, is co-sponsored by 57 Republican lawmakers and four Democrats.
That’s a whole lot of support for this knee-jerk bill, knee-jerk as in the Webster's definition: “reacting in a readily predictable way.”
It is pre-emptive legislation prompted, as the leading sponsor has admitted, by a controversial move by The Journal News of New York in December to publish all handgun permit holders in two New York counties following the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
So, because a New York suburban newspaper published a list of names under that state’s public access allowances Maine is going to ding public access here?
That is, apparently, the idea.
Rep. Wilson told the press that he can’t think of any reason why law-abiding citizens, who have had to pass background checks as part of the permit application process, should have their permits made public.
Does he believe the same confidentiality protections should apply to law-abiding licensed contractors in Maine, many of whom must undergo background checks to work in sensitive industries?
Does he believe the same for law-abiding teachers who must undergo background checks to work in our schools?
What about police officers, who are law-abiders certified to enforce our laws?
There are dozens of law-abiding permit, license and certificate applicants required to undergo background checks across the state. And, so what?
The results of a permit applicant’s background check does not appear on the permit; the public doesn’t have access to those details. We must assume, based on the issuance of the permit, that the holder is a lawful, upstanding citizen.
Isn’t that a good thing?
The public has an absolute right to know who is holding a special state-issued permit and what the holders are permitted to do.
We should know, for basic accountability, who is permitted by various state departments to spread certain toxins for pest control. And who is licensed to design and build our schools. And who is permitted to provide home care to our disabled. Who is licensed to perform surgeries, who is licensed to represent us in court and who is licensed to calculate our taxes.
There's some interesting irony worth noting, too.
The bill was submitted at the request of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, a respected nonprofit that promotes gun rights and responsible conservation of Maine's natural resources.
It's also an entity that has fought hard to keep the names and addresses of hunting license holders in the public domain so it can find new potential members, and now it wants to conceal weapon permits? Isn't that a double standard?
There's one more thing.
A reading of the bill indicates that its primary purpose is to protect against identity theft.
The real curiosity in the proposed legislation is that some of the very same personal information that more than 60 lawmakers are attempting to shield with this bill is public in accident reports, in court records, and tens of thousands of other public documents, so is this the first step in a journey toward total secrecy?
We hope not.
But, never mind that the bill tilts toward government secrecy, it is also poorly written.
The proposal suggests that personal information about a concealed weapon permit holder, such as "name, full current address and date of birth," should be confidential for the "well-being of the permit holder and the holder’s family."
Under current law, though, permits don’t contain dates of birth. The only required information is name, address, physical description of the permit holder, signature, and dates of issuance and expiration.
Other than a physical description, that information is as benign as what appears on an open burn permit for backyard cleanup, which is, rightfully, a public document.
The more detailed information of a concealed permit holder’s identity that might draw the attention of an identity thief is already protected under a heavy shield of confidentiality applied to the permit application, including date of birth, nonconviction and juvenile criminal history, a person’s history of drug use and mental disorders.
So, what we really have here is a heavily co-sponsored bill that employs the frightening threat of identity theft just because a New York paper published information obtained from public documents.
It’s knee jerk and, while sometimes a healthy jerk of the knee can feel really good, this is not good legislation.
This is merely feel good legislation.
That’s no way to implement public policy.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.