RICHMOND – It’s now up to the state Senate whether to close off public access to records of concealed-handgun permits.
The Republican-dominated House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly Tuesday, 76-23, to shut off access to the records, which have been public for decades. Nearly 300,000 Virginians have concealed-carry permits.
The measure (SB1335) began life as a narrowly drawn bill to allow withholding of the information upon request by someone who has been granted a protective order in a domestic violence case. It was amended last week in a House committee to apply to all permit holders.
Gun-control and open-government advocates, who had not opposed the bill in its original form, were caught off guard by the maneuver. Now they’re lobbying to defeat the measure in the Senate, which must approve the House amendment for it to become law.
Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association, said closing public access to gun permits is a national priority for the gun lobby. Similar legislation is pending in seven states, she said.
Minority Democrats in the House challenged the amended measure on germaneness grounds, arguing that the original legislation had been impermissibly broadened. But they were overruled by House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford County.
Howell, who disallowed a high-profile legislative redistricting measure last week on germaneness grounds, ruled this time that the amended bill could stand. As he did last week, he read a lengthy defense of his decision from the podium.
Defenders of the amended bill portrayed it as a public-safety measure.
“This bill goes a long way toward protecting law-abiding citizens,” said Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County. “There are any number of reasons why the publication of that information is not only dangerous but an invasion of privacy.”
Gilbert said disclosing gun-permit information amounts to “offensively stigmatizing” gun owners as “people who belong on some list to be watched, much like we treat sex offenders.”
The patron of the measure, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, issued a statement after the vote welcoming the House amendment. Obenshain is a candidate for this year’s Republican nomination for attorney general.
-Bill Sizemore, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot