- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A conservative Virginia lawmaker is proposing a solution to a potential bureaucratic nightmare created after lawmakers passed legislation this year to keep private the identities of people seeking concealed weapons permits.

Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter has introduced a bill that would keep information from permits issued before July 1, 2008, open to the public — a response to court clerks who said the law would have resulted in the logistical nightmare of trying to find ways to physically remove information from old indexes and paper record books.

In more recent years, the information has been maintained electronically, making it easier to shield in compliance with the law.

Mr. Lingamfelter, Prince William Republican, said his bill addresses a “manpower issue” that will have no effect on the state’s gun laws.

“If it hurt the Second Amendment, I wouldn’t be carrying it,” he said.

The original bill, sponsored in the state Senate by Mark D. Obenshain, sought to protect the personal information of domestic violence victims who applied for the permits. Once it passed the Senate, the legislation was amended to protect personal information from all permit holders.

Concern over the issue has been simmering since at least 2007, when The Roanoke Times published an online database of concealed carry permit holders in the state. The database was eventually taken down.

After an outcry from gun owners and gun rights groups, The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y., removed its own online map posted last year of concealed weapons permit holders that included specific names and addresses.

Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a Republican, issued an advisory opinion in July saying that clerks must withhold from public disclosure names on all permit applications and orders, whether they are maintained electronically or in “order books.” He said the clerk is required to comply with the law even though the legislature didn’t appropriate funds for the task.

Michele McQuigg, clerk of the Prince William County Circuit Court, said the original bill would have created a near-impossible task for clerks across the state, who would be required to go back and remove information from documents dating back decades.

She said applying the law to the post-July 2008 applications was a more reasonable task.

“If you made it five years back, almost everybody could handle taking them out of the public view,” she said. “It just involved too much work, and every court does everything different.”

While still publicly available, the paper documents are decentralized and more difficult to compile comprehensively.

“Our records are out there, but it’s probably going to be hard for people to find,” Ms. McQuigg said.

The Republican Party of Virginia requested information on the permit holders earlier this year before the law took effect, but withdrew the request after clerks estimated the price tag for tracking down such records would have stretched into six figures.

The law will shield the electronic records, which should include all current permits while making them available to the clerk’s office, members of law enforcement and other government officials entitled to access.

“The idea is to have the clerks go back at least 5 years and from there forward forever,” Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said in an email. “Thus only old applications that are no longer valid would be available. VCDL is going to push for that to go back at least 10 years, instead of 5 or 6.”

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