Last Friday, the N.C. House pushed through House Bill 17, which is, “An act to provide for the confidentiality of information regarding concealed handgun permits and pistol purchase permits,” The bill passed 97-20 and, doubtless, will pass the Senate and be signed into law.
The question is: Why?
Supporters of the bill argue that if gun permit records are public information, some people might use them for nefarious purposes. Criminals, they say, will study up on who owns handguns, case the homes of those gun owners and steal their guns.
Picture, if you can, a thief making inquiries at the sheriff’s office. Compiling a list of gun owners, he or she then risks injury or death attempting to steal their guns.
Now imagine a rash of these thefts, prompting gun owners to call for legislation to protect them from such egregious abuses of public information.
It’s absurd. The information has been public all along and no such thing has happened.
What did happen, though, was publication by the Journal News of an interactive map giving names and addresses of gun permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties, N.Y., following the Sandy Hook shootings.
The gun lobby howled, and rightly so — it was a lame gotcha stunt.
Tapping into this conduit of outrage for some cheap political capital, the bill’s sponsor Sen. E. S. “Buck” Newton reasoned: “I don’t see how this is, in any way, shape or form, information that the public should have.”
Pandering to gun lobby outrage, N.C. lawmakers now want to make the application process by which elected officials permit citizens to carry concealed firearms a state secret, invisible to public or media scrutiny.
Without transparency, where is accountability? The only people reviewing applications and records will be ones issuing the permits, and occasionally the State Bureau of Investigation.
In 2011, there were nearly 230,000 concealed carry permit holders in the state, according to the N.C. Department of Justice. This figure is large enough to imply significant error. Assuming sheriffs’ offices are 99 percent vigilant in eliminating questionable applicants, there would still be about 2,300 people who probably shouldn’t be walking around in public with a loaded gun stuffed into their pants.
With the recent gun-buying frenzy, sheriffs’ offices are processing more permit applications than ever before. It happens that the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office has a reputation for thoroughness in issuing permits. But is this the case in every county? Will it always be the case here? Lacking public record, how would we even know?
Arguments for this legislation are incoherent, but stranger still are the political bedfellows.
Support for House Bill 17 demonstrates a faith in government and law enforcement that doesn’t harmonize with the shrill, “don’t-tread-on-me” politics of the gun lobby. Are they now calling for the state be the sole, unchecked proprietors of information on who owns handguns, how many and where they live?
Dylan Lightfoot is a Staff Writer for the Jefferson Post