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Right to Know Under Assault

March 31, 2013
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

West Virginians have been zealous guardians of our right to information - the keystone of our liberty, prosperity and personal safety - for decades. That is why the state has Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws.

Virtually no session of the Legislature passes without attempts to chip away at that right. Sometimes the excuse, used to keep some government documents secret, is that it is not in our best interest to know. Other times we are assured legislators are merely protecting our privacy by adopting new exemptions to FOIA law.

One assault on our right to know involves public and press access to lists of people who have permits to carry concealed weapons. An amendment to seal those lists has been added to a House of Delegates bill dealing with background checks for those who wish to purchase firearms.

Legislators who added the amendment say it is to protect the privacy of gun owners. They point to a New York newspaper's publication of a list of concealed-carry permits.

Of course, we disagree with that action, for several reasons. But, though concealed-carry lists are available now in our state, we know of no newspaper that has published them.

The Second Amendment guarantees the right of Americans to own firearms and use them in many ways, such as for hunting. But there is a reason even staunch defenders of that right do not object to the process of applying for permits to carry concealed guns in public. Doing so is viewed as a privilege.

Both the press and the public in general are entitled to know who among us may be carrying concealed weapons. The reasons for that are obvious.

Viewed in isolation, then, the proposal to seal concealed-carry permit lists is of concern.

But in the context of ongoing attempts to use "privacy" as an excuse to limit West Virginians' rights to information, the issue may be even more serious.

If this one succeeds, what is next? An attempt to keep pay records for public employees secret? Perhaps an exemption on records of certain purchases with public money to guard businesses' privacy? Perhaps a proposal to withhold arrest records to safeguard the privacy of people charged with but not yet convicted of crimes?

West Virginia already has started down the slippery slope of allowing a handful of legislators and other public officials to decide what state residents should know and what should be kept secret from us. The concealed-carry permit measure is just one more example of that.

It should be defeated, as should other attempts to keep West Virginians in the dark.

 
 

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