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Gun carry permit a right, not privilege

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By John Baker

South Carolina is poised to join 28 other states which have closed access to their lists of concealed weapon permit (CWP) holders. In addition to South Carolina, five other states have similar pending legislation.

The S.C. Press Association (SCPA) is opposed to the legislation (H. 3528). It has argued that the public has a right to know who has a CWP, in the same way that a license to operate a vehicle on a public highway is public information.

The SCPA is incorrect.

What the SCPA fails to understand, or perhaps chooses to ignore, is that there exists no right to operate a vehicle on a public highway, but rather a privilege granted by the state. On the other hand, there does exist a right to "keep and bear arms," enshrined in the both the U.S. Constitution (specifically, in the Bill of Rights) and in the S.C. Constitution.

It is important to understand why South Carolina is poised to close access to the list of CWP holders. Last year, the Roanoke Times, a newspaper located in Roanoke, Va., sought to emphasize the importance of open government during Sunshine Week. Normally, this would have been a good thing. However, the paper's methodology was ill-considered and reckless. Using the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the paper obtained a complete list of every Virginia resident in possession of a CWP and then published that list on the Internet.

The list included both names and addresses. After a major public outcry, the list was removed from the Internet. However, the damage had already been done. Among others, the list included victims of domestic violence, who had left abusive relationships, and who had obtained CWPs for their protection.

According to messages posted to the Roanoke Times and elsewhere, some of these victims had to flee within hours of the posting of the list.

Did the Roanoke Times offer to pay damages to those victims of domestic violence whose lives were uprooted by the publication of the list of CWP holders? Not according to any record I have been able to locate. These people were victimized not once, but twice.

In addition, the publication of the list of CWP holders also created a target list for criminals. First, it offered to muggers a list of those individuals who should be avoided (CWP holders), making non-CWP holders more likely to be targeted.

Second, it offered to thieves a list of homes that could be targeted when their residents were away, since CWP holders may be expected to own additional firearms.

Rep. Michael Pitts introduced H. 3528 as a direct response to the action taken by the Roanoke Times.

The SCPA proposed alternative language that would have permitted the release of the list to continue, but would have prohibited its publication in any electronic format or its use for commercial purposes.

Surely, the SCPA must understand that once the list crosses the state line, any law South Carolina may have governing its use is without effect.

Sen. Vincent Sheheen amended H. 3528 (at my request) by inserting a provision that will require the annual publication of CWP statistics (number of permits, revocations, etc.).

We are now awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in the Heller vs. District of Columbia case on the meaning of the phrase "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," which may significantly impact firearms laws and regulations nationwide. It is conceivable that "open carry" as opposed to "concealed carry" could become the law of the land. If so, the debate over access to the list of CWP holders could very well become moot.

The SCPA feels that all government issued licenses must be public information. Since Freedom of the Press is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution in the same way as the right to "keep and bear arms," I would like to suggest that we require licensing of all press editors, reporters, photographers, etc. Since these licenses will have to be issued by the government, we must therefore publish the names and addresses of all press editors, reporters, photographers, etc.

I can hear the screams of outrage already. After all, the press is privileged. It operates under the Orwellian (Animal Farm) premise that everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others.

Open government is vitally important to a free society, and Sunshine Week is a time to reflect on the importance of open government.

Nevertheless, being open must not be construed to require the disclosure of information which unnecessarily places citizens at risk.

Being too open can be just as dangerous as being too closed.

John P. Baker is a Lancaster resident.