- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2013

A majority of Virginians say the names of concealed weapons holders should not be made public, according to a poll released Thursday.

A Quinnipiac University survey shows 60 percent of respondents think permit information should be sealed compared to 35 percent who think such records should be open. It comes on the heels of the passage of a bill in the General Assembly that would prohibit court clerks from releasing such information.

And while the poll showed some pockets of discontent, particularly among Democrats and black voters, overall support for restricting access to the names was strong.

Among Republicans, 76 percent support sealing concealed-carry records compared to 16 percent who oppose. Only 40 percent of Democrats thought the list should be off limits and 55 percent thought it should be public record.

Fifty percent of black voters support offering the public access to the names of permit holders, 42 percent object.

Across all demographics, the percentage of people who said they did not have enough information or did not have an opinion on the subject registered in the single digits.

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“On the question of keeping secret the names of those with concealed weapons permits, almost everyone has an opinion, and it strongly supports keeping those names out of public view,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The survey, of 1,098 registered voters using interviewers to call land lines and cellphones, was conducted March 20 to 25 and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points. 

The recently passed bill prohibiting disclosure, introduced by Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, originally shielded just the names of permit applicants protected by a protective order. The House of Delegates expanded the bill to cover all permit holders. Mr. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, welcomed the change and urged the Senate to accept it.

Supporters of the bill have said it protects the privacy of law-abiding gun owners. They point to a New York newspaper that published the names and addresses of permit holders in December in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, recently signed legislation allowing his state’s handgun permit holders to remain confidential. Mr. Obenshain said that left Virginia as one of 12 states that make such information public record.

A Virginia newspaper in 2007 published a similar list of permit holders, and the General Assembly in 2009 passed a bill that removed a list of concealed-carry permit holders from the website of the Virginia State Police, but the records were still available through county court clerks.

Open-government groups opposed the expanded bill that passed last month, saying it would impede the public’s ability to monitor government regulation of a constitutionally protected activity.

Among other findings, the poll also found revealed a sharp societal divide over whether to expand Medicaid. It found 45 percent favor expanding the federal-state program that helps pay health care costs for the elderly, poor and disabled to an additional 400,000 Virginians just above the poverty level. Forty-three percent oppose it — within the poll’s margin of error, meaning public opinion on the issue is essentially even. 

Women favor Medicaid expansion 48 percent to 39 percent, and men oppose it 48 percent to 42 percent. Black voters back expansion 68 percent to 20 percent, while whites oppose it 50 percent to 38.

In the poll, 73 percent of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats preferred expansion to just 18 percent who did not. Among Republicans, 67 percent opposed while 22 percent supported broadening the program. Among independent voters, 47 percent supported expansion and 40 percent opposed it.

Expansion of Medicaid was mandated by the federal health care overhaul. It would extend the program to cover the working poor — households with income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $32,000 a year for a family of four or $15,400 for an individual.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports

• Matthew Cella can be reached at mcella@washingtontimes.com.

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