AUGUSTA — The author of a bill that seals from public view the information on more than 30,000 concealed handgun permits in Maine said Friday he's open to allowing some access to the data.
Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, said he had prepared an amendment that would allow aggregate data from the permits to be released. It also would allow law enforcement personnel and others who issue the permits to have access to the data.
The amendment would remove from Wilson's bill a provision that would have prohibited and punished anyone who obtained the records when the release of the data was allowed.
"Meaning, if somebody already has it, they are allowed to use it because that conflicted with some segments of the constitution," Wilson said. "I think those are reasonable compromises."
Wilson said he supported the idea of releasing aggregate data on the permits, including items such as the total number of permits in any given area, but he wasn't sure how much demographic data such as the permit holder's age or sex he would support releasing.
"I would have to think a little bit more on that, but I would be open to those discussions," Wilson said.
"But I do believe there's a value in allowing some of that aggregate data to be released," Wilson said. "Some people may have an interest in knowing how many individuals within a certain area have concealed weapons permits."
In February, the Legislature passed and Republican Gov. Paul LePage signed into law an emergency measure to close the permit records for 60 days.
The intent was to give lawmakers a full and deliberate debate around Wilson's bill, which would permanently seal the records and exempt them from Maine's Freedom of Access Act, the state's open records law.
The emergency law came into place after gun rights advocates and Republican lawmakers expressed concern over a request for the data from the Bangor Daily News.
While the newspaper insisted it did not intend to publish "wholesale" the names and addresses of those with concealed handgun permits, it said it wanted access to the information for long-term reporting projects on domestic violence and drug trafficking. It later rescinded the request for the data, but lawmakers said another anonymous request could put at risk the safety or compromise the identities of those with concealed handgun permits and moved forward with the emergency bill.
Prior to the change, the permit data was part of the public record for nearly 30 years. Information on those permits included name, address and year of birth. Open government advocates argued there had never been a negative result of having the data public and the benefit of leaving the information public outweighed any risks to individual gun holders.
Wilson said Friday he was hopeful proposed changes to his bill would make it palatable for members of the Democratic majority.
On Thursday, Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, a co-author of the emergency bill, said he still supported sealing the records but also wanted aggregate data to be available and for law enforcement to have access to the data.
"In some cases, maybe even certain individuals should have access to certain portions of the information," McCabe said. "But as far as large lists, that just screams as a little bit of McCarthyism to me."
Wilson's bill is scheduled for a public hearing before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, March 12.