Access to Wisconsin gun permit lists stirs debateThe state Department of Justice keeps lists of people who have concealed carry permits, but people can't access them.
By: Hannah O’Brien, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Superior Telegram
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The state Department of Justice keeps lists of people who have concealed carry permits, but people can't access them.
And there are differing opinions on whether that's a good thing.
Advocacy group Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort says making available concealed carry permit information would allow groups to ensure people who carry concealed handguns, knives or electric weapons are "as law abiding as the lawmakers promised," said Jeri Bonavia, the organization's executive director.
"Since we don't know who concealed carry weapon holders are, we don't know what they're doing" or if they're the ones committing violent crimes, she said. "That's really frustrating. . Are these people as law-abiding as the senators promised us, or have we been kind of duped?"
But the National Rifle Association says making sure concealed carry permit holders are abiding the law isn't a job for the general public.
"That's the function of law enforcement," said Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the NRA. "There's no need for these people to have their privacy compromised. Anyone who makes any other argument is not being honest."
The Green Bay Press-Gazette examined Wisconsin's concealed carry law as part of Sunshine Week, an effort to spotlight freedom of information and public access to government records.
Wisconsin is one of 20 states that doesn't allow any access to concealed carry permit records. Twenty-five states, including California, Indiana and New York, allow the public to access concealed carry permit records, according to Sunshine Review, a nonprofit organization.
Three other states, such as Texas and Kentucky, allow limited access, including the ability to verify names of concealed carry permit holders. In Ohio, records are released only if a journalist can provide a statement of public interest, according to Sunshine Review. Illinois is the only state that doesn't allow concealed carry.
In addition to the inability to study whether concealed carry permit holders are involved in criminal activity, WAVE says the lack of public access to records in Wisconsin keeps groups from being able to act as government watchdogs of the permit-approval process.
"The background-check system itself is pretty flawed," Bonavia said. "A lot of records don't get into the background-check system as they should, so we're missing felony records."
The Department of Justice only can find records related to mental health issues if permit seekers were ordered to undergo treatment in court, but the department should have access to mental health records from physicians as well, Bonavia said.
"Those records are pretty much nonexistent, even though it's a disqualifier for owning or using a gun," she said.
The NRA argues making records public to allow for watchdog reporting is "a bogus argument that doesn't hold any water," according to Arulanandam.
"It really serves no purpose," he said. "People who have to carry permits are people who submitted to background checks."
The NRA also says opening permit records to the public would violate permit holders' privacy.
"People who want to defend themselves want to do so in a low-profile manner," Arulanandam said. "Publicizing identities, their homes and other personal information is a blatant invasion of their privacy."
WAVE, however, says there's more benefit than risk in making public the permit lists.
"There's privacy concerns, and I understand how you can make that case," Bonavia said. "But at the same time, this has an impact on the state at large, and we have a right to know whether this is beneficial or harmful."
Making records public would be especially harmful for people who are trying to escape abuse, Arulanandam said.
"What happens is you have a group or movement that comes forward and they basically publish the names and phone numbers of all these concealed carry permit holders, and low and behold it's tantamount to having a neon arrow pointed at them," he said.
To make sure permit seekers who are ineligible to carry concealed weapons don't fall through the background-check cracks, Wisconsin lawmakers included a provision in the concealed carry law that requires the Legislative Audit Bureau to do regular checks of the DOJ's application approval process.
The audit would keep permit holders' personal information private, while also submitting the DOJ to a checks system.
"We figured that's a balanced approach," said Tim Gary, chief of staff for Rep. Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz, and author of Wisconsin's concealed carry bill that went through the state Assembly.
Information from: Green Bay Press-Gazette, http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com