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RALEIGH—A bill that would make concealed carry permit holder and pistol permit holder information private in North Carolina has made its way through the state House.
North Carolina House members on Tuesday passed House Bill 17, “An Act to provide for the confidentiality of information regarding concealed handgun permits and pistol purchase permits.”
The measure passed 97 votes to 20 votes.
The area’s entire House delegation voted in favor of confidentiality, including Democrat Susi Hamilton (New Hanover) and Republicans Ted Davis (New Hanover), Frank Iler (Brunswick), Rick Catlin (New Hanover) and Chris Millis (Pender).
House Bill 17 now goes to the Senate for approval, but the Senate already has a similar bill, Senate Bill 28, which remains in committee.
The move to privatize gun owner records—currently public records in North Carolina—has the support of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association.
State Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, who got the attention of the North Carolina Press Association by introducing three bills that strengthen the public records and opens meetings laws in North Carolina, said he was “not totally excited” about privatizing gun owner and concealed carry permit information.
“There are some senators and some representatives up here who really think that’s a problem. I don’t know that it’s a problem—people knowing that you are armed. I think that people tend to stay away from you if they know that you are armed. I don’t know how that’s going to increase problems for people. I’m still waiting to hear an answer to that question,” Goolsby said.
Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel for the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, said the state’s 100 sheriffs support the measure for several reasons.
“First and foremost, it’s what the citizens predominantly want. The people who have guns don’t want their names published and the people who don’t have guns don’t want their names published that they don’t have guns,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said North Carolina sheriffs feel the disclosure of concealed carry permit and pistol permit information is a threat to public safety.
“The gun owners and the non-gun owners want it,” Caldwell said about confidentiality.
Caldwell called the state’s sheriffs “probably the best poll-takers in America.”
“They don’t run sophisticated polls. They’re in church, they’re at community events, school events, they have people calling them. They’re hearing from them on everything I just told you everywhere they go. Some folks want to get these lists and the citizens are coming out of the woodwork—the gun owners and the non-gun owners—saying, ‘Don’t tell the thugs I do have a gun, and don’t tell the thugs I don’t have a gun.’” Caldwell said.
Support of House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 28 began with the sheriffs’ association’s legislative committee, which forwarded its support to the executive committee.
“I haven’t had one sheriff even begin to imply the decision ought to be something else. They’re all hearing the same thing from their constituents. They’ve got a better feel for what people in the community want,” Caldwell said.
Mike Tadych, a Raleigh-based First Amendment and media law attorney who represents the North Carolina Press Association, said he didn’t see the information as public record as an infringement on Second Amendment rights.
“North Carolinians have enjoyed access to concealed carry/pistol information for a very long time and, to my knowledge, without any infringement on Second Amendment rights. Proposed restriction to access this information via sheriffs refusing access or legislative action presents several concerns. At its base, access to concealed carry information provides a means for North Carolinians to hold their government accountable.
“That is, is the permitting process and analysis being handled properly? Should a permit have been issued? Were there warning signs that were ignored in issuing permits? Accountability is a hallmark of open government. In addition, I’m not aware of any empirical evidence, which confirms recent suggestions that access to this sort of information bares permit owners to greater risk of burglary or targeting of unlawful behavior in order for criminals to obtain their weapons.
“To the contrary, it is my understanding that possessing a concealed carry permit alone – even without actual gun ownership or possession – can deter unlawful behavior where criminals may intentional avoid more risky targets,” Tadych said.
Caldwell agreed accountability, openness and transparency are hallmarks of good government.
“The statutes already provide exceptions to public records laws, in terms of disclosing things. In an ideal world, all records would be open to the public. The problem is we don’t live in an ideal world,” Caldwell said.
For example, certain personnel records and investigative records are confidential even under the broader stroke of being public record.
“It’s a balancing act. We favor open records. On the other hand, if we have compelling interest to protect our citizens we have to keep some records confidential,” Caldwell said.
“The public believes and the sheriffs believe the risk to the public is greater there if you disclose this information than if you don’t disclose the information. The sheriffs fully support making every possible record public except when it’s going to jeopardize public safety. The sheriffs come down on the side of protecting the public.”
Click here to view House Bill 17 in its entirety.
Caroline Curran is the managing editor of Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6336 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter at @cgcurran.