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Gun permits are public’s business

From The Greenwood Commonwealth
Anytime there is an effort to deny the public access to records that previously were freely available, it should automatically raise suspicions.

Sunshine, not secrecy, keeps government accountable and best protects the public’s interest.

Two Jackson-area legislators, though, apparently think the public is best served by keeping under wraps the identities of those who have been issued a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Rep. Mark Baker of Brandon and Sen. Will Longwitz of Madison say they will introduce legislation this year to close these records.

The Republican lawmakers’ initiative and similar ones like it around the country have been spurred by the recent publishing online by a New York newspaper of the names and addresses of all holders of concealed carry permits in its area. The National Rifle Association is also pushing to make these records confidential.

Those in favor of closure claim either that the information is no one’s business, or that disclosing it exposes the permit holders to being targeted by criminals.

Both parts of that argument are weak.

First, it is the public’s business to know who has been given the legal authority to carry a firearm concealed on their person. People who have had differences with their coworkers or neighbors might just want to be able to look it up and see with what they might be dealing.

More importantly, the disclosure of this information is the only way to be sure that the permits are being issued correctly by state authorities. Mississippi law has several disqualifiers, including  felony convictions, mental illness or a history of alcohol or drug abuse. Although a check of the records by permitting authorities might pick up most of this disqualifying information, there is always the chance that some will go undetected. Citizens who know a person’s history are a good check against error.

Second, a concealed-carry holder should be less prone to being a victim of crime, not more so — or at least that’s what the gun rights advocates have always argued. They say that criminals don’t mess with individuals who the criminals believe might fire back. Assuming criminals even pay attention to government records, and that’s a dubious claim, it could just as reasonably be argued that the crooks will mark off their potential victims’ lists anyone with a concealed-carry permit.

The proposal from Baker and Longwitz is bad on principle and bad on logic. It should be shelved.
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