Legislature ready to seal list of concealed weapon permits

COLUMBIA --- South Carolina is poised to become the 28th state to keep secret the list of residents allowed to carry concealed weapons, a move favored by gun owners but opposed by advocates of open government.

South Carolina is among six states with legislation pending that would close the information to public scrutiny, according to the National Rifle Association, which has advocated the measures.

Gun enthusiasts such as Rep. Mike Pitts, who sponsored the South Carolina bill, call the publishing of the gun owners' names an attack on the Second Amendment.

"Having a concealed weapon means I'm supposed to have it hidden," said Mr. Pitts, R-Laurens, a retired law enforcement officer who teaches a handgun safety course to legislators and their families. "You're not supposed to know I've got one."

Open-government advocates counter that the government should never dole out licenses in secret.

"You need public oversight," said Lucy Dalglish, the executive director of Virginia-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "How else will you know if the state is issuing licenses in a fair way?"

Ms. Dalglish says she doesn't understand why concealed carry permits should be singled out for privacy when all other licenses -- whether for beauticians, bars or barristers -- are public.

The Legislature in South Carolina -- where one in five legislators holds a concealed weapon permit, according to a recent review by The State newspaper of Columbia -- is ready to send the measure to Republican Gov. Mark Sanford. His spokesman, Joel Sawyer, said the governor has not yet reviewed the legislation.

The bill would exempt the identities of permit holders from what's available through the Freedom of Information Act and grant access only to law enforcement or through a court order.

The House, which passed the bill unanimously in May, is set to take up Senate changes to the bill Tuesday. They include requiring the state to publish statistical information yearly on permit holders and applicants, a change Mr. Pitts supports.

Mr.Pitts said he was incensed by a column last March in The Roanoke Times that focused on concealed weapon permits as a way to highlight Sunshine Week, the annual observance of open government and public records laws. The Virginia newspaper's online version included a link to the state's more than 135,000 permit holders and their street addresses.

The newspaper pulled the link the next day, citing concerns that it might have included names that should not be public, according to a follow-up Roanoke Times article.

THE ARGUMENTS South Carolina is among six states with legislation pending that would prevent public access to concealed weapons permits. WHY? Supporters call the publishing of gun owners' names an attack on the Second Amendment, saying the point of having a concealed weapon is that it is hidden. OPPONENTS SAY: The government should not give out licences in secret; public scrutiny is needed to determine whether the state is issuing licences in a fair manner.