- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

RICHMOND (AP) — A state advisory council will consider whether public access to a list of Virginians with concealed handgun permits should be restricted, after a newspaper published an online database containing the personal information of permit holders.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council on Monday created a subcommittee to study the protection of personal identifying information.

“There’s a clash here between personal, private information and the public’s right to know,” said the council’s chairman, Sen. R. Edward Houck, Spotsylvania Democrat.

On its Web site last week, the Roanoke Times published a database listing the names and addresses of more than 135,000 Virginians who are licensed to carry concealed weapons.

The database accompanied a column on Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote the importance of open government and records. The permit information is public record and is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The newspaper said hundreds of readers complained on its message board and to a gun-rights group that publishing the names violated the privacy of law-abiding residents and gave potential criminals information that would help them find victims.

The newspaper removed the database from its Web site the next day because of concern that some of the names should not be made public, president and publisher Debbie Meade said in an article published last week.

At the council’s meeting Monday, Delegate Dave Nutter, Christiansburg Republican, said he has asked for the attorney general’s opinion on whether the state police should provide such information. The police keep track of the permits so its officers can find out who has a gun when making an arrest or traffic stop.

Mr. Nutter also said he plans to introduce legislation in the General Assembly next year to restrict the information to law-enforcement officers.

Jim Kadison of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights organization, said his group is concerned about “possible abuse” of the concealed-permit information. He suggested creating a list of permit holders for police and a separate, public one from which permit holders could ask to be removed.

The council, made up of state legislators, government officials, press representatives and residents, had held that the gun permit list is a public record.

In a 2001 advisory opinion, the council’s executive director, Maria Everett, wrote that “no specific statutory exemptions” apply to the list. The opinion was issued in response to a Chesterfield County permit holder who had received solicitations and political mailings addressed to “Virginia Gun Owner” and “Concealed Handgun Permit Holder.”

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