The sponsors are different each year, but the goal is the same: prohibit the disclosure at local courthouses of concealed handgun permit applications (CHPs).
VCOG has opposed the bills in past years and it will again this year. I know a lot of people will disagree with VCOG. Some may agree. As an open government advocacy group, this issue for us is about access to government records. There's no other agenda here.
VCOG believes that if government chooses to regulate an area -- through permits, certifications, licensing, etc. -- the basic records related to that regulation should be made available to assure that the government is implementing the regulation fairly and accurately. This is about accountability.
Regardless of our political stripes, most of us don't like the government telling us to trust it to do the best thing, the right thing, the fair thing. Usually we like to see for ourselves.
In the CHP context, we need to be able to verify that a locality is giving permits to people who fit the criteria and not giving permits to those who don't.
Maybe you think CHPs are a bad idea and no one should have one. Maybe you think everyone should be able to carry a handgun and the government shouldn't get to decide who does and who doesn't. And that's a reasonable policy debate to have. But unless and until the government gets out of the CHP business, the records of its administration of the process should be open.
The debate over access to CHPs has been going on for at least five years. The State Police maintains a centralized database of CHPs. That database used to be subject to disclosure under FOIA. Then, after The Roanoke Times published a compilation from that database of local CHP holders, then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell was asked his opinion on whether the database actually had to be disclosed. He said it did not. (You can read that opinion here: http://www.opengovva.org/foi-opinions/attorney-general-opinions-mainmenu-63/990-attorney-generals-opinion-2007-027)
That opinion eventually led to some long meetings in a 2008 Freedom of Information Advisory Council subcommittee with gun-rights advocates, media representatives, VCOG and others about access to CHPs. The compromise reached among the parties in those meetings was that the database would be closed to public access, but CHPs would still be available at the courthouse where the permit was issued.
Ever since legislation memorializing those talks was passed, efforts have been made to double-back and close off access to CHPs at the courthouse.
It is thus important to note here that during those 2008 talks, groups that supported closing off both the database and the courthouse permits also wanted to carve out an exception for like groups. The groups wanted to use the information to contact permit holders, presumably for advocacy purposes.
And I couldn't agree more.
Commercial and political mailing lists are compiled from a number of different sources, including public records. That's how we get catalogs, offers or flyers from groups that offer products or advocate for causes we gravitate towards. It may seem unsavory, but it's also common practice under notions of free enterprise.
CHP information should be available so groups offering opportunities for training, education, related products, and perhaps most relevant, advocacy.