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State law will change as of July 1, exempting all concealed carry permit records from public inspection.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
The Republican Party of Virginia wanted circuit court clerks across the state to compile lists of concealed weapons holders before a new law will ban them from releasing information about permit holders.
But as clerks wrote back telling the party they would have to charge thousands of dollars for staff time to compile the list, the GOP decided to pull its request.
“Unfortunately the average cost for producing these documents based on the information we have received so far would be more than $1,000 per office,” the party’s executive director, Anthony Reedy, wrote in a letter to clerks formally withdrawing the request Tuesday. “At an estimated cost of more than $121,000 for mailing addresses alone, this method of communication is no longer cost effective.”
The party sought the information from all 121 clerks in order to expand its voter contact information, Reedy said.
It did so just less than a month before a new law sponsored by its current candidate for attorney general, state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg , would have prohibited clerks from releasing information about permit holders.
The party had requested names, addresses and phone numbers of concealed handgun permit-holders.
Party spokesman Garren Shipley said GOP officials did not feel it was inappropriate to ask for information that every Republican legislator had wanted to keep confidential.
“Routine requests like these ensure that we are able to provide information in a timely manner,” he said.
He said the party has a proud record on gun rights issues, “and we are working actively to ensure that voters who are concerned about Second Amendment issues stay informed about Democratic efforts to limit our right to keep and bear arms.”
Clerks do not keep a single record of permit holders, and would have had to compile all the data the party sought from thousands of separate court files.
The time involved and the short time remaining before the new law made release illegal prompted Wise County Circuit Court clerk Jack Kennedy to ask Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for an opinion on how to respond.
Kennedy said he is concerned about the possibility clerks could be sued for releasing the information, especially because compiling the list might not have been complete until after the July 1 ban on releasing the information.
“I’m not comfortable about giving out all that personal information,” said Chance Crawford, clerk of the Salem Circuit Court.
Gathering it from thousands of separate files and compiling a list would be a huge burden, said John Davis, clerk of the Augusta County court.
“We had thousands just in January and February,” he said.
Suffolk clerk Randolph Carter turned down the request, saying that the state Freedom of Information Act does not require public officials to create new records, such as the list the GOP sought, and exempts records that clerks are required to maintain.
Obenshain, who sponsored the legislation barring release of permit holders’ personal information, said he feels the data should be private.
“Sen. Obenshain doesn’t believe that any citizen should risk having private information disclosed simply because they chose to exercise a constitutional right,” spokesman Paul Logan said, adding: “Regardless of what organization requests it, he believes that information should remain private.”
The new law grew out of concerns among legislators and gun rights advocates after The Roanoke Times in 2007 published an online database of concealed carry permit holders in Virginia. Obenshain’s bill originally was more narrowly drawn, allowing circuit court clerks to withhold records of permit holders who are the subject of a protective order. But after the bill had passed the state Senate, the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee rewrote it to close off all public access to concealed-handgun permits. Obenshain approved of the change.
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