Arkansas House Approves Bill Making Gun List Secret

LITTLE ROCK - Over the objection of freedom of information advocates, Arkansas lawmakers on Tuesday approved legislation that would make secret the list of nearly 130,000 residents who have permits to carry concealed weapons.

The House overwhelmingly passed the measure by an 84-3 vote and sent it to Gov. Mike Beebe, who said he was opposed to the bill but declined to indicate whether he would veto it. Lawmakers could override a veto with a simple majority.

"We will announce his action when it occurs," spokesman Matt DeCample said Tuesday after the vote.

The Senate voted 24-9 in favor of the proposal earlier this month.

Proponents of the legislation say it's needed to protect the privacy of permit-holders who could become targets if the information falls into the wrong hands. The bill's main sponsor, Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, has said the issue arose after a New York newspaper last year published the names and addresses of people who had permits to carry concealed weapons.

Unlike New York's law, Arkansas' current Freedom of Information Act allows police to release only the names and zip codes of permit holders. That's the result of a 2009 compromise that lawmakers approved after a previous effort to make all of the information secret.

This time, though, the volatility of gun-related issues made it difficult for media organizations opposing the bill to persuade enough lawmakers to preserve the compromise, according to Tres Williams, director of communications for the Arkansas Press Association.

"We just didn't have a lot of success distinguishing that this was an open records law and not a gun law," Williams said. "The timing was not right. You throw in the fact that the Obama administration is making some overtures toward some limitations on guns, and there's just a huge backlash."

At least 20 other states have prohibitions on public access to concealed carry lists, according to information compiled by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Four additional states - Kansas, Kentucky, Oregon and South Carolina - recently enacted legislation keeping concealed weapons permits secret, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And on Tuesday, Maine's governor swiftly signed into law an emergency, temporary measure to keep the names of permit-holders confidential following public furor over a newspaper's request for the information.

In Arkansas, state police don't keep track of who is seeking information about concealed carry permit-holders but the vast majority of the requests come from reporters, according to spokesman Bill Sadler.

Of the 15 written requests for the concealed carry list that Sadler provided to The Associated Press, all but three of the inquiries came from journalists. A Notre Dame University sociology researcher last summer sought a copy of the list. Another request appeared to come from a geographic information system consultant in Conway. And last month, the chairman of a gun rights advocacy group asked for the list.

Steve Jones, chairman of Arkansas Carry, which supported the legislation to keep the list secret, said in an interview that he requested the list to see how many residents had permits and to see how the information was being provided.

He said the group previously requested the list in 2009 and doesn't use it to solicit new members.

"What we did look at this time was just how easy it would be to find out someone's information" Jones said. "Just using the name and ZIP code, we found that with a Google search, it's almost as easy as if you had all of the information."

The legislation to keep the list secret will take effect as soon as the governor signs it or when the Legislature overrides his veto.

The bill is one of several measures this legislative session aimed at tightening the state's Freedom of Information Act. Other proposals would either exempt from disclosure or keep secret the names of state employee whistleblowers, school safety plans, execution protocols, and public water system documents relating to security.

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