Archive for Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Editorial: Concealed records on guns unnecessary

April 12, 2006

Editor's note: In it's Monday edition, the Lawrence Journal-World printed this editorial:

Some circular logic is being employed by state officials who plan to seek additional legislation to keep secret the records related to the state's new concealed carry law.

The Kansas Open Records Act requires that public records be accessible to the public unless they are specifically exempted from the law. Exemptions include such sensitive documents as personal medical records and juvenile legal proceedings.

However, when legislators wrote the concealed carry law, they neglected to address the question of whether information on permits or permit applications should be exempt from the open records law. Because the law is silent on the issue, the assumption is that the records would be open.

That doesn't seem unreasonable. Marriage licenses, medical licenses, hunting licenses and many, many other records are open to the public. It provides an openness that allows private citizens to monitor the actions of their government. So why close records on licenses to carry a concealed weapon?

Two rationales have been offered. Legislators who supported the concealed carry act say that criminals or stalkers shouldn't know whether their potential victims are carrying guns. In the first place, it seems unlikely that criminals are going to spend much time perusing licenses for concealed weapons in preparation for picking their targets. And it seems that the main rationale behind concealed carry is that it forces criminals to assume that everyone they target has obtained a license and is carrying a concealed weapon. You want the criminal to think you have a gun; that's what makes the law a deterrent to crime.

The other rationale, offered by Atty. Gen. Phill Kline, is that "it is important to keep citizen privacy foremost in this." A person who keeps a gun in his or her home might have an expectation of privacy, but when that person takes a concealed weapon into the public, it's no longer a private matter.

The purpose of providing access to any public record is to allow oversight of government actions. In the case of concealed weapons, the public should be able to monitor the integrity of the permitting process. For example, what if someone observes that a mentally unstable person is carrying a concealed gun? If that person has obtained a concealed carry permit, something is wrong with the process.

In general, it seems that keeping gun licensing records secret will only increase the discomfort of the Kansans who already are uncertain about the concealed carry law. Not specifically exempting the licenses from the open records law may have been an oversight, but, for the sake of open government, legislators should let it stand.

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