Why we're concerned about closing access to CHPs

Del. Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) has proposed a bill to prohibit clerks of court from releasing concealed handgun permit applications filed in that locality. The bill is HB79, and VCOG is opposed to it. Here's why.


As long as the permits are required in Virginia, there should be some public access to them. it is important for the public to be able to monitor:


(1) how the permits are processed (that is, whether the applications are being completed or accepted satisfactorily)




(2) whether certain individuals have permits


* is the in-home caregiver for my elderly father, or the neighbor of my child's day care center carrying a firearm? * Does the troubled young man who's been writing my sister threatening poetry carry a gun under his jacket)? * Can the journalist confirm that the victim and/or suspect in a case had a permit to carry the weapon he was found with?


The FOI Advisory Council studied this issue in 2007, and with the input of access advocates, the gun-rights lobby and several other interested parties, the agreement was to close off the State Police electronic database but to leave the individual permits available at the courthouse. The proposal was not loved 100% by all, but there was at least an opportunity for all to be heard. Subsequent attempts in the 2008 legislature to close off courthouse records were rebuffed.


Since the state database has been shut down, if courts were then prevented from releasing CHP data, there would no longer be an effective way to monitor CHPs in Virginia.

The argument for taking records off the Internet and leaving them in the courthouse was a version of the "practical obscurity" argument, that it's OK for public records to be public, so long as they aren't convenient to obtain.

Supporters of "practical obscurity" often point to the deterrent effect of having courthouse-only access because it requires individuals to make a personal appearance, go through metal detecters, show their identification or otherwise offer themselves up for recognition by court personnel.

With access to permit applications only at the courthouse, gun owners do have a measure of protection from harmful elements who might seek out their record for nefarious purposes.

On the other hand, not all inquiries have a nefarious purpose in mind. Aside from the examples above (elder care, day care, crime victims and suspects), individuals may seek permit holder records to offer permit holders education, marketing and/or advocacy opportunities.


Past history of the CHP records debate: After FOIA Council studied the issue in 2007 (after The Roanoke Times published a list of all CHP holders, and after the Attorney General said that the State Police database was not releasable under FOIA) Del. Dave Nutter sponsored HB982 in 2008 (which incorporated a bill by Carrico, too). An amendment on clerks by Ware was adopted by House, but defeated by Senate by being left in Senate Courts of Justice on an 8-7 party-line vote. Nutter reintroduced HB1044 in 2009, and no amendment on clerks was added. The bill passed unanimously.

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