While the names of those who get—or even apply for—permits to carry concealed weapons are matters of public record in California and would stay that way under the recently introduced Assembly Bill 134, the bill by freshman Assembly Member Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) would allow police and sheriffs’ departments to keep confidential their home addresses and phone numbers, reports the Los Angeles Times. Such information is already exempt from disclosure for permittees and applicants who are prosecutors, public defenders, peace officers, judges, court commissioners, and magistrates. Privacy concerns aside, the main reason for keeping permit-related records visible in the first place is to bring transparency about how sheriffs and police are handling their issuing authority. For example, some sheriffs have been accused of handing permits out liberally to political supporters and contributors while withholding them from others, sometimes as expressions of racial or ethnic discrimination. Keeping the addresses of permittees confidential will make it harder to detect such practices, including issuance to those who live outside the jurisdiction. Mansoor’s main argument is that an accessible list of contact information for “concealed carry” permittees amounts to a “shopping list” for criminals bent on stealing weapons. It’s not clear that this notion is evidence-based; one might also conjecture that such a list acts to educate burglars and home invaders about which residences (or individuals) are more dangerous targets for attack and should be avoided. But since such records are not posted on the Internet, both conclusions assume something that in itself seems hard to imagine: that those bent on crime will demand access to such records from their only source: police and sheriff’s offices. Californians Aware’s statewide survey of such agencies in 2007 showed a pronounced tendency of law enforcement records keepers to greet requesters not already known to the department, seeking copies of any but the most routinely issued documents, with considerable suspicion—”a mindset that too often considers the questioning stranger a potential threat to be probed rather than a citizen to be helped.”
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About the Author: Terry Francke, General Counsel
Terry Francke has a 33-year history of helping journalists, citizens and public officials understand and use their First Amendment and open government rights. With CalAware, Francke has authored comprehensive and authoritative guidebooks to California law on access to government meetings and public records and the news gathering and publication rights of journalists. Focusing on these issues in public forum law, he supervises CalAware's legislative and litigation initiatives; conducts workshops on legal compliance; helps design public records audits; supports local sunshine ordinance drafting efforts; writes CalAware Today, a blog on current developments and proposals in the law and best practices; and answers countless queries by phone and e-mail from citizens, journalists, public officials and employees, and lawyers. Francke previously served 14 years as executive director and general counsel to the California First Amendment Coalition, after a 10-year post as legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He has served as an advisory panel member to the National Center on Courts and the Media; taught journalism law at the Department of Communication at Stanford University; and served as an expert contributor to the 1994 major revisions to the Ralph M. Brown Act and the 2004 ballot proposition making open government a basic right of citizens under the California Constitution. Francke is a 1967 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a 1979 graduate of McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific. Prior to his legal career, Francke worked as a weekly newspaper editor and in military and local government public affairs positions.