"Bill Would Keep Gun Owners' Names Secret
LAST UPDATE: 3/18/2005 11:46:32 PM
AUSTIN (AP) - The identities of concealed handgun carriers in Texas would be kept secret under a House bill designed to protect gun owners - a proposal critics deride as "paranoia" and government secrecy.
Current law requires the state to disclose whether a person is licensed to carry concealed guns in response to open-records requests.
The House gave its preliminary approval of the secrecy bill Thursday, and it is expected to shoot through final passage as well.
"The whole idea is made very clear in the title of the license - it's concealed," said the bill's author, Kempner Republican Suzanna Gratia Hupp, who witnessed her parents' death in the 1991 Luby's cafeteria massacre in Killeen and has since been a Second Amendment advocate.
The bill passed the House in 2003 before it died in the Senate, where it's likely to run into opposition again. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said passing it there is not a high priority.
"I don't see the need not to have open records on these matters," Whitmire said.
Freedom of information advocates have long opposed the measure.
"This piece of legislation screams of paranoia more than practicality," said Donnis Baggett, publisher of the Bryan-College Station Eagle and legislative chairman of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association and the Texas Press Association.
Under the current law passed in 1995, the Texas Department of Public Safety must disclose the licensee's name, birthday, gender, race and ZIP code. To obtain the information, a person must send a written request asking whether an individual has been issued a concealed handgun license and a fee. The department notifies the licensee of the name of the person or agency that requests the information.
As of February, 237,121 Texans had been issued concealed handgun licenses, according to DPS reports.
"When we talk about open records, we're talking about shining light on government, not on individual privacy," said Hupp.
Concealing weapons information would give potential victims an advantage, Hupp said, because attackers would be unprepared. For women, maintaining the element of surprise when carrying a gun is even more important, she said, especially if they are being stalked.
"It's a tool that in the wrong hands can do tremendous damage," she said. "In the wrong hands it could kill a family. In right hands, it could save a family."
The bill would also deter thieves looking to pilfer handguns from getting information they might use to case a gun owner's home or business, said James Dark, executive director of the Texas State Rifle Association.
Baggett said Hupp has not proved anyone has been harmed as a result of obtaining information about a concealed weapons licensee.
"If you can check to see if someone has a drivers' license and that is a matter of public safety, it is logical to assume you should have access to see if someone has a license to carry a pistol," he said.
As a concealed handgun licensee himself, Baggett said he feels safer knowing the information is public.
"People are less likely to bother me if they think I may be carrying a weapon," he said.
The concealed handgun license information bill is HB318. "