Right to Know

In an effort to protect gun rights, 11 members of the West Virginia House of Delegates are sponsoring an ill-conceived and illogical bill that would do little for gun owners but take rights away from all citizens.

The bill, which would exempt information about concealed carry permit holders from being released under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, was introduced Tuesday by Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, and co-sponsored by Eric Householder, R-Berkeley; Cindy Fritch, R-Monongalia; Larry Kump, R-Berkeley; Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley; Dana Lynch, D-Webster; Larry Williams, D-Preston; Jim Butler, R-Mason; Roy Cooper, R-Summers; Scott Cadle, R-Mason; and Minority Whip John Shott, R-Mercer.

The bill is an obvious reaction to The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y.’s late December FOIA request for the names and addresses of all concealed carry permit holders in the two counties covered by the paper. This happened in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary shooting tragedy in which 20 elementary students and six adults at the school were killed by a deranged gunman.

After receiving the information, the suburban newspaper published those names and addresses and provided an interactive map. The paper, which later removed the map and list from its website, was roundly criticized – even by many journalists, who said its publication served no constructive purpose.

However good the sponsors’ intentions are, this bill is not needed. We believe it is always wrong to remove public information from the public.

While The News and Sentinel has no intention of publishing the names and addresses of those with concealed carry permits or an interactive map of their neighborhoods, that information should be available for legitimate news stories.

For instance, it is in the public’s interest to know how many concealed carry permit holders are in a city, a county or the state. The News and Sentinel published such a story recently on the number of concealed carry permits in Wood County. There were no names mentioned, but we felt it showed the level of support here for firearms and the Second Amendment right to own firearms. Even this type of generic information would be off limits if this bill would pass.

Yes, supporters could argue there would be nothing to stop a media outlet here from doing what was done by the New York newspaper. We hope that would not happen, because as was the case in New York, nothing would be accomplished by doing it.

There are specific exemptions to the FOIA, such as the provisions protecting citizens’ private medical documents, or documents concerning ongoing police investigations.

The bill is in the House Judiciary Committee. It should stay there. Gun owners would not benefit by passage of this bill. However, if the bill passes and this exemption is allowed, the general public would lose and another barrier to the public’s right to government-sanctioned information would be created.