AUGUSTA — Uproar over a New York newspaper publishing names and addresses of concealed weapon permit holders has spread to Maine, where lawmakers say lax access laws could lead to wrongdoing.
Freshman Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, has submitted a bill that would make certain information contained in concealed-carry permits confidential, such as names, addresses and dates of birth. It would also make it illegal for those who have that information, such as media, to disseminate it.
He said those who carry concealed weapons are virtually all law-abiding citizens who have to pass background checks.
“I just couldn’t think of any good reason for why this should be publicly available,” Wilson said. “It makes it easy for criminals to identify where the guns are.”
In December, The Journal News, a newspaper serving a suburban area New York City, published an interactive map of permit-holders in two of three of the counties in its coverage area, allowing readers to see names and addresses of permitholders.
Wilson, a former Marine, said he’s a gun owner, but he wouldn’t say whether or not he carries a concealed weapon.
He said his bill, which was submitted on behalf of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and has more than 60 co-sponsors, Democrats and Republicans, was a direct response to the newspaper’s action.
Wilson said it was a preemptive measure to ensure names, addresses and dates of birth of holders aren’t published in Maine.
“This was not in any way targeted toward newspapers or any member of the media,” Wilson said. “It’s just a mechanism of hopefully preventing (those) who may have, in my opinion, not-good intentions (from spreading) this information.”
The newspaper’s move was condemned by many and the database was suspected of aiding criminals in break-ins and thefts.
In January, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a package of gun-control measures, but included a provision allowing New York permit holders to request their information be kept private. The newspaper removed the database that month. The paper drew further criticism after hiring armed guards that month, in response to negative reactions to the map.
Cuomo’s law was the first major state gun-control overhaul since Dec. 14, when 26 students and teachers were killed by gunman Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
According to a January USA Today article, Maine is one of 14 states to allow access to names of those with concealed-weapon permits. Vermont doesn’t issue permits, and 35 states don’t allow access to names.
Now, Maine law says the authority that issues a permit — Maine State Police or municipal police departments — must keep a file of permits issued.
All information in the Maine permits is available for public inspection. State law says the permits must contain a name, address, signature and physical description of the permit holder, along with the permit’s date of issuance and expiration. The permit also may contain a photograph of the holder.
“There’s a lot of personal information in there,” said Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey.
Lt. Scott Ireland, head of the Maine State Police’s licensing division, which handles permit issuance in more than 300 municipalities and all townships and unorganized territories, said photographs would be publicly available in many applications, but his office would not allow those to be disseminated.
He said many groups have requested wide-ranging permit holder data. While he said he’d allow the public to inspect data, as required by state law, he wouldn’t allow wide-ranging data to be disseminated outside the office so no Journal News-style map is possible using his data.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said his group was also motivated to support the bill.
“If you’re a bad guy wanting to set up shop in a town, what better to know than where the guns are?” he said. “It’s like a deterrent not to know.”
In other states, similar laws have been advocated by pro-law enforcement groups. Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said the association hasn’t yet reviewed the bill, but he personally supports its aim.
He said it could likely aid law enforcement by tamping down potential for break-ins or threats against those whose names and addresses could be part of the public record, although he said it hasn’t been a problem in Maine.
“I think that those bills like that could be helpful to law enforcement,” Schwartz said. “They could prevent things from happening.”
The bill could see a challenge, however, from pro-public access groups.
Jeff Ham, a Portland Press Herald editor who also serves as executive director of the Maine Press Association, said the group will likely oppose Wilson’s bill, though it hasn’t yet reviewed it. Members of the MPA include the Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, as well as the state’s major daily newspapers and many weekly papers.
Ham said the Journal News’ map should be a question of journalistic ethics and fairness, but not an argument to remove information from the public record.
“It’s safe to say we think this is a really bad idea,” Ham said. “When you try to chip away at public access, we’ll almost always be against it.”
Augusta Mayor William Stokes, an assistant Maine attorney general in charge of the office’s criminal division, said speaking as mayor, he didn’t have strong feelings either way on Wilson’s bill.
But Stokes is also a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a pro-gun control group coalition of city mayors fronted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
Stokes said he understood why permit holders may not want information about them publicized.
“By definition, they’re complying with the law,” Stokes said. “It’s the ones who don’t comply with the law that are the issue.”
Michael Shepherd — 370-7652