Second request for gun data puts new law on fast track

LEWISTON — A curiously timed and anonymously filed request for public records on concealed handgun permits in Maine helped fast-track an emergency law that passed the Legislature on Tuesday, temporarily sealing those records from public view.

How other states handle concealed hand gun permits

Only 15 states, including Alabama, California and until Tuesday, Maine, allowed public access to permit information including the names of permit holders and their addresses. Ten of those states are currently considering changes to their laws.

Another 23 states, including Connecticut and New Jersey, ban all access to the data.

The remaining 12 states, including Vermont, either do not require a permit to carry a concealed handgun or have partially open records. In Ohio, for example, permits are not open to the public but the state allows journalists to inspect but not copy information from the records. 

In Montana, the permits are open "unless the demands of individual privacy clearly exceed the merits of public disclosure."

Mississippi makes a concealed handgun permit confidential for the first 45 days it is issued; after that, it's a public record.

Source: Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press

But nearly as fast as the request came in, the account it came from — celebrationconnect@gmail.com — went dead. Messages sent to it by the state and media organizations went unreturned and bounced back with a message from the computer servers at Google stamped: "permanent delivery failure."

Who sent the request remains unknown, but lawmakers — especially those in favor of sealing the records — leaned on it to justify why the Legislature had to act quickly to close public records that had been open for inspection for 28 years. The emergency law closes the records until April 30.

The crisis developed when the Bangor Daily News filed a request for the same records under Maine's Freedom of Access Act. After criticism from Republican lawmakers, Gov. Paul LePage and others in Maine (including many of its readers and advertisers), the newspaper withdrew its request.

Just hours later, Maine State Police received the anonymous request.

LePage then requested an emergency bill that was sponsored by Democratic majority leaders in the House and Senate.

"It was a manufactured crisis," said state Rep. Teresea Hayes, D-Buckfield, the day after the vote.

Hayes, one of only 11 lawmakers to vote against sealing the records, questioned the move during an abbreviated floor debate on the emergency bill Tuesday. She pointed out that the law that sets up the permitting process makes confidential all information in a permit application. Only the final permit was a public record.

Hayes also noted that the FOAA law didn't force police to ship that permit data out electronically. All FOAA requires is that the recipient allow the public (or newspaper) to inspect them in person, Hayes said.

"This (law) wasn't an 'oops,'" Hayes said. "This wasn't something that a prior Legislature did without forethought or intent."

She added, "Nobody offered any information to suggest that the deliberate leaving of the permit information, as part of the public record, has caused harm to anyone. So suspending access to that information seemed unwarranted, and it clearly wasn't an emergency."

Christopher Parr, an attorney who handles FOAA requests for the Maine State Police, noted in an email message Thursday that he still had not made contact with whomever sent the request from celebrationconnect@gmail.com.

"At this writing, I have not received a response to either of the emails I’ve sent," Parr wrote in a message to editors at the Sun Journal.

Some lawmakers who voted to close the record agonized over the decision afterward, and said the pressure from within their respective caucuses was insurmountable. 

Most didn't know at the time of the vote that the second FOAA request could have been a hoax and likely impossible to fulfill.

State Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, who voted to close the record, said she's since heard from constituents who are angry with her for the vote. Craven said she's a gun-control advocate, so she made the choice to temporarily seal the permits with some trepidation. She views her vote as a decision to put the debate "on hold." 

As the bill moved its way toward passage Tuesday, it was stalled for what legislative leaders called "a small technical" amendment. But there were actually multiple amendments, and some more substantive than indicated, according to the state's top lawyer, Attorney General Janet Mills.

Mills is a concealed weapons permit-holder in Maine, she said.

She said she alerted lawmakers to concerns she had about the bill, which included language that would have prohibited the release of  gun permit data that was obtained prior to this week. The other amendment ensured law enforcement officers would still have access to the permit information.

Those amendments satisfied her concerns, but she didn't herald the bill as a landmark change or one that was going to vastly improve public safety.

The changes to the bill made it legally "defensible," she said.

"As to the merits of it, or the policy, or politics of it, it's not for me to comment," Mills said. "This obviously calls for a balancing act between the First Amendment and the people's right to know versus those who believe the Second Amendment protects the identity of those with concealed weapons permits."

Maine's move to seal off its permit records is part of a nationwide trend that emerged after a New York newspaper published an online map with the addresses of concealed weapon permit holders. That drew the furor of gun-rights advocates.

The Bangor Daily News' FOAA request specifically said it would not publish the names but would use the data in reporting projects.

Aaron Mackey, a lawyer with the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press based in Arlington, Va., said of the 12 states that make concealed handgun permits public, 10 — including Maine — are considering making them confidential in some fashion.

"We are seeing a lot of legislation that's being introduced in reaction to what happened in New York," Mackey said.

Many of those states, including New York, also took a fast-track approach to quickly sealing off the records. That type of approach is problematic, Mackey said.

"Any time you have government taking action and there is minimal or no public scrutiny of it — either being able to see the proceedings or being able to obtain documents to understand how they act — there's worries about what the government's doing and whether they are conducting their business honestly," Mackey said. 

He said much of the legislative intent behind keeping concealed handgun permits open was to ensure they were being issued fairly, essentially to help protect the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, he said. Media scrutiny of the data can uncover important trends as well as discover flaws in the system.

"There were stories that showed, in a number of different states, that there were a percentage of permit holders that should have had their licenses revoked, and it's that sort of disclosure that can lead to a better system," Mackey said.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Amedeo Lauria's picture

Was never really a twist guy, before my time, more disco.

Ron as you know the bell curve always applies...some of my VERY close friends and family are Democrats and Independents and I value their rational opinions and input to the conversation.

So we have a percentage at each end of the spectrum, and not my place to silence or control anyone right or left as long as they play well with others. I spent too much of my life defending free and open discourse.

Just tired of the do as I say, not as I do ilk and those that would limit ANY of our rights protected, not granted, under our US Constitution.

Also have a probem with faulty logic; a lot of that going around in America today.

However, I have to admit, I do find the latest " rogue email to the Bangor Daily news" conspiracy theory VERY entertaining. We'll see how it pans out.

Mark Elliott's picture

This reminds me of when

This reminds me of when democrats tried to ban loud motorcycle pipes and submitted "emergency" legislation to beat the deadline, claiming it was a "public health" issue.....The difference is, concealing our "concealed" weapons permit information is a real public health issue.

RONALD RIML's picture

Nice bulge.....

Are you packing concealed or is that your colostomy bag??

 's picture

As usual Terry Hayes is

As usual Terry Hayes is clueless

This is a matter of privacy because it deals with private citizens

What does she not understand about this?

Would she like it if the public had access to her private information?

Amedeo Lauria's picture

It is a sad day in America when...

defenders of our US and Maine Constitutions are viewed as "wackos", "hysterical", "paranoid", "gun nuts" etc.

Having sworn to support and defend the US Constitution for over 30 years, I wonder if any of these people have ever held public office of any kind and sworn the same oath. In addition, this oath is sworn by Maine state employees as well as we have the same rights under the Maine Constitution.

It is sworn by many Americans in federal and state government service; I wonder if they swore the oath and collected their taxpayer supplied salaries but it was, in their minds, just lip service to get a position and they had no intent to REALLY read the applicable document or follow through on their oath of office.

BTW, our Congress and State Legislators swear the same oath.

I pray this is not the case...but you have to wonder...

RONALD RIML's picture

Nice 'Twist' - Amedeo

Who's claiming: "defenders of our US and Maine Constitutions are viewed as "wackos", "hysterical", "paranoid", "gun nuts"?

We're simply observing that the usual wacko, hysterical paranoid gun-nuts are out aligning themselves with normal law-abiding firearms enthusiasts - and - as usual - making you look bad.

You need to police your own gang as we do with some of our whacko liberals a few conservative media hosts like to paint us all with the same broad brush.

- And there's no wondering to it.......

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

A manufactured crisis

Since the law that was in effect for 28 years created no danger to anybody before, it was necessary to create an emergency out of thin air so that the gun lobby could muscle the legislature and show them who is boss. This is such a pointless waste of time that I have to wonder if their motive isn't to tune up the legislators to get them ready for future gun control legislation battles. Even in New York where the names of CWP holders were published, no case can be made that anybody was injured or robbed. I'm hoping our legislators have the spine to stand up to this kind of manipulation and to keep our government transparent.

Mark Elliott's picture

Case made: ->

RONALD RIML's picture

I missed the section in the article

where the perps stated they read the paper.

I investigated many burglaries where guns were stolen and safes were 'jimmied' during my Police career. Don't recall a single one where it was advertised in the paper that the owner had a gun.

This article doesn't mention 'cause and effect'

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

being a bit more cynical

My mind automatically goes to the right and sees a paranoid gun nut trying to create hysteria and give the proposed law some urgency.

For the whackos preparing a broadside like I gor last week from LaVerne and Shirley, I really don't care if you "pack heat." Please keep your zipper closed too.

FRANK EARLEY's picture

A complete wase of valuable time.....

Is anyone else getting a little tired of hearing this nonsense on a daily basis? The fact that someone would post a request from a gmail account, anonymously, is reason enough to ignore it. It was meant to cause the expected uproar. Hysteria has a way of turning normal everyday human beings, into a group of paranoid schizophrenics. This whole gun freedom uprising, the third I've experienced, is getting old. Its time to get over it, the more people keep acting out to declare their right to remain anonymous, the more visible they become. If they keep it up long enough, we won't need the list, we'll just need to look out the window.....

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