AUGUSTA — A New York newspaper’s decision to publish the names and addresses of concealed-weapon permit-holders has prompted an Augusta lawmaker to file a bill to prevent that from happening in Maine.
Freshman Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, has submitted a bill that would make information contained in concealed-carry permits — such as names, addresses and dates of birth — confidential. It would also make it illegal for the media or others with access to that information to disseminate it.
Wilson said those who carry concealed weapons are typically law-abiding citizens who have had 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 three suburban counties outside New York City, published an interactive map listing the names and addresses of concealed weapon permit-holders in two of the three counties.
Wilson, a former Marine, said his bill was prompted by the newspaper’s action and attempts to pre-empt any attempt to publish the names, addresses and birth dates of Maine permit-holders.
He said he submitted the bill — which has more than 60 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors — on behalf of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, a nonprofit that promotes hunting, fishing, wildlife preservation, land conservation and gun owners’ rights.
Wilson said he owns a gun, but he wouldn’t say whether he holds a concealed-weapon permit.
“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 who may have, in my opinion, not-good intentions (in sharing) this information.”
The New York newspaper’s decision was condemned by many, including other media outlets, who said the database could provide criminals with information on which households contain firearms. The newspaper removed the database last month.
In January, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a package of gun-control measures in New York state that included a provision that allows permit-holders to request their information be kept private.
It 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 that allows access to the names of concealed-weapon permit-holders. Vermont doesn’t issue permits, and 35 states don’t allow access to names or other personal information.
Maine law requires the authority that issues a permit — either Maine State Police or municipal police departments — to keep a file of permits issued, and all information on the permits is available to the public.
State law says a permit must contain a name, address, signature and physical description of the holder, along with the dates the permit was issued and will expire. 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 processes permits for more than 300 municipalities and all townships and unorganized territories, said his office would allow the public to inspect permits, as required by law, but would not hand out information from large numbers of permits or allow photos of permit-holders to be made public.
David Trahan, executive director of the sportsman’s alliance, said the New York newspaper’s map was reason enough to protect information on firearms permits.
“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.”
Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said that group hasn’t reviewed the bill yet, but he personally supports its aim.
He said the measure could benefit police by reducing the potential for break-ins or threats against permit-holders — although that hasn’t been a problem in Maine to date.
“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, an editor at the Portland Press Herald and executive director of the Maine Press Association, a trade group that represents many of the state’s daily and weekly newspapers, said the association will likely oppose Wilson’s bill.
Ham said he has yet to review the bill, but he contended that while publication of the map in New York raised questions of journalistic ethics and fairness, that does not support 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.”
William Stokes, the mayor of Augusta and an assistant Maine attorney general who heads the office’s Criminal Division, said that as mayor, he didn’t have strong feelings on Wilson’s bill.
But Stokes, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a gun-control coalition fronted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, said he understood why permit-holders might 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.”
State House Bureau Writer Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at: