The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 19, 2014

No secrets

Bill to exempt concealed carry permits is First Amendment issue

— A bill submitted to the West Virginia Legislature would change the state’s concealed weapon carry law to exempt records of permit holders from the public record.

The bill, with bipartisan support, is being co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader John Unger, Senate President Jeff Kessler and fellow Democratic Sens. Sam Cann, Donald Cookman and Rocky Fitzsimmons.

Republican co-sponsors are Sens. Evan Jenkins and David Nohe.

The bill would make just one change in current law, but we think it is a significant one.

Putting the names of legal concealed-weapons permit holders behind a secret wall, we believe, goes against the transparency we expect from government.

Don’t mistake us: This isn’t a Second Amendment issue, but a First Amendment issue.

The bill’s purpose is to protect the confidentiality of CCW applicants and renewal applicants as well as holders of weapons permits. It would exempt these records from Freedom of Information Act requests.

The bill would still allow law enforcement to access the list of just who has a concealed weapons license in West Virginia.

But it is our belief that the public’s right to know shall not be infringed.

By not standing up for transparency in this instance, we set a stage where the Legislature may decide other information that is now openly available to citizens of West Virginia also needs to be made secret.

Don Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association, says lawmakers should not be allowed to make government records secret. He is leading the fight against the National Rifle Association-backed legislation.

We think his stand is the correct one.

This is not a case of denying qualified West Virginians, who have passed background checks and had the requisite training, to carry a concealed weapon.

It is a case of denying to the citizens of West Virginia access to important public information.

It is our belief that this information should remain in the sunlight of the public domain, and not hidden behind an unnecessary and unneeded veil of secrecy.

We urge West Virginians to contact their legislators to make their thoughts on this issue known. Whether in support, or, as we believe is right, in opposition.