Statement to the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group

Statement to the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group
January 28, 2013

The Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information (CCFOI) appreciates the opportunity to offer the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group thoughts on the difficult issues before it.

CCFOI is an organization that has worked for more than 50 years to support government transparency and accountability.  In our view, there are public policy and security arguments that favor restoring public access to the names and addresses of those who apply for, or hold, a permit to carry or sell at retail a pistol or revolver or an eligibility certificate for a pistol or revolver

As a general rule, we believe that when the state decides a matter is of sufficient public interest to regulate it, the public should be able to scrutinize the licensing process to ensure that it is fair, efficient and effective.  Permission to carry a handgun is a serious matter, and the public should be able to monitor the performance of those who grant that permission. Are applications being carefully reviewed? Are decisions to grant a permit – or to deny one – being made fairly? Are permits quickly and reliably revoked when a holder commits a serious crime? Are applicants whose permits are denied because they gave false information on their applications uniformly prosecuted?

In sum, can the public determine whether existing gun laws are being vigorously and effectively enforced, as recommended by persons on all sides of the present gun debates?

Many of the public-policy measures being considered to diminish gun violence are focused on ways to identify potentially dangerous people and to prevent them from obtaining guns.  Public applications and permits would make it possible for individuals to bring to the attention of authorities disqualifying information that applicants for permits might have concealed.

It would also allow individuals worried about safety for themselves or family members – such as those involved in a difficult domestic dispute, for instance – to check on whether someone they are concerned about has permission to carry a handgun.

We do not believe that the right to own a gun implies the right to keep gun permits private.  Many of our rights must be exercised in public.  We have the right to vote and the right to associate with whom we choose, but we must publicly register to vote. Whether we vote, and the party we register with, is public information.  We have a right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, but our signature on that petition is a matter of public record.

Certainly the right of access to public information must sometimes be balanced against substantial threats to security.  Those opposed to making handgun permits public fear that such a registry could be used to target gun owners – or, conversely, non-gun owners – for burglary.  The recent publication by a suburban New York newspaper of an interactive map of handgun-permit holders in its region greatly intensified this fear.

Since that publication, the thrust of media commentary has been that this publication of raw data was ill advised, and that it lacked the context, analysis and newsworthy findings that make a valuable contribution to public discussion.  It did, however, spur added restrictions on New York handgun permit information at a time when context and analysis of that data would be particularly worthwhile. On the root question of whether public permit registries have a significant track record as a way to target burglaries, we are not aware of any credible research showing such a connection, but we would urge the legislature to seek out any that may exist.