By The Gazette Editorial Board
The path taken by state lawmakers seeking to place more public information behind a shield of confidentiality is almost always paved with good intentions.
House File 535, which cleared the Iowa House 95-3 this week, is no exception. The bill would require state and local law enforcement to keep confidential the information about Iowans with permits to carry or purchase handguns. Under current law, the names of those issued permits are a public record.
Backers contend that criminals might use the information to target a home for theft, either because a permit holder might have a gun to steal or a non-permit holder might not have a gun to protect them. They also point to a few high-profile instances in other states where the media misused the information. In one case, a newspaper mapped the addresses of permit holders.
We’re sympathetic, but not convinced.
The fact of the matter is that these permits are issued by government. And the real issue, in our view, is whether Iowans’ ability to monitor the actions taken by its government should be curtailed in this instance.
It may seem OK to shield this record or that record for one good reason or another. But when you step back, and look at the bigger picture, you’ll see an open records law repeatedly weakened by exemptions and loopholes.
We don’t believe the speculative threats and anecdotes offered by backers of this exemption add up to a compelling case for keeping permit records confidential. As a news organization that depends on laws guaranteeing access to public information, we must set a high bar for exemptions. This one doesn’t clear it.
We’re glad that, at least, the bill would still allow law enforcement to access permit information and compile statistics. We also support a provision creating state penalties for anyone makes a “straw purchase” of a firearm on behalf of someone who is criminally barred from possessing one.
But on balance, we oppose the bill, and urge the Senate to stop it.
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