D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said Thursday she does not support a proposal to publicly identify gun owners who are granted concealed carry permits, undercutting a nascent effort by some lawmakers to make the names available upon request.
Citing safety concerns, the chief said the identity of permit holders and their reasons for seeking to carry a concealed weapon should be shielded from disclosure as the city considers permanent regulations on the carrying of handguns in public.
“Suppose that person is someone who has obtained that permit because they transport large amounts of cash or valuables. By making that a public record, you’re now letting people know they carry large amounts of cash and valuables. Same thing for a victim of domestic violence,” Chief Lanier said. “I don’t think by making that public serves the interest of public safety, and it could increase the risk for somebody who has already demonstrated that they have a specific threat.”
The release of such personal information became a flashpoint of contention among gun owners in 2012 when a New York newspaper published an interactive map that featured the names and addresses of 33,614 licensed gun owners in two counties. Journalists questioned whether the data dump was an unwarranted invasion of privacy, and gun owners said they were concerned they could be targeted for robberies as a result.
Whether the data should be made available in the District was one of several questions the D.C. Council debated Thursday as lawmakers work to craft permanent legislation to comply with a federal judge’s ruling this summer that struck down the city’s ban on carrying handguns in public.
Temporary legislation, adopted in September and valid for 90 days after the court ruling goes into effect on Oct. 22, requires gun owners seeking to obtain concealed carry permits to justify their need for a permit and to undertake new safety training. Laws would continue to restrict the carrying of firearms in certain “sensitive locations” such as government buildings, bars, schools and at public demonstrations.
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D.C. Council member David Grosso has suggested that lawmakers include a provision requiring the city to keep a public database of gun owners licensed to carry concealed weapons that would be eligible for release under a Freedom of Information Act request. The policy was not adopted in the temporary law, but Grosso spokeswoman Dionne Calhoun said Thursday the at-large independent will likely seek to amend the permanent legislation to make “the list of concealed carry registrants FOIA-able at the discretion of the chief of police.”
Chief Lanier said the city currently keeps private identifying information about the city’s gun owners, who are required to register their guns with the police department. The department instead releases general information, such as the number of guns registered per ZIP code.
The District’s near-total ban on gun ownership was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2008. Since then, Chief Lanier said 3,307 handguns and 1,814 long guns have been registered in the city. Though gun owners will be required to present a specific need to be granted a concealed carry permit, the chief said she fully intends to issue the licenses.
“There is no motivation here to deny someone who meets the criteria from getting a concealed carry permit,” she said.
George Lyon, a plaintiff in the court case that resulted in the gun carry ban being overturned, testified against the release of gun owners’ identifying information.
“What a poorly thought out idea. Publicize the names and addresses of stalking victims and persons facing threats of violence so that their stalkers and other persons looking to do them harm can more easily find them?” Mr. Lyon said to council members at Thursday’s hearing. “I was grateful to see that Chief Lanier explained to you what a risk that was.”
Others said there could be some benefit to allowing limited release of such information.
“While we understand the desire to protect the privacy of those who choose to own and carry guns in the District, we believe that the legislation can fully respect this desire while still allowing for researchers or journalists to conduct targeted research under strict conditions of confidentiality,” said Tracy Zorpette, an advocate with the D.C. chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat who presided over Thursday’s hearing as the head of the council’s public safety committee, said the issue of public disclosure will likely come up for debate before the whole council, which grudgingly passed the temporary legislation.
“My opinion is that we have some members who are so opposed to this that they want to know who is going to have a concealed weapon and see no reason or restriction on that person being known to everyone,” Mr. Wells said. “The question is, do we put some buffers on that in the law, or do we leave that to the chief’s discretion?”
Asked whether some council members might support the proposed disclosure requirement in order to discourage applicants, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson declined to speculate.
He said that just because members don’t agree with the court’s ruling doesn’t mean they can ignore it, adding that “the view of the full legislature is how we vote.”
“So the fact that there might be an individual who came across as being punitive does not mean that’s where the legislature is,” Mr. Mendelson said.