Gov. Tim Kaine signed a bill last week that removes a State Police database of concealed weapon permit holders from public access in Virginia.
The bill protects "from public disclosure permittee names and descriptive information held by the Department of State Police for purposes of entry into the Virginia Criminal Information Network," according the bill's summary statement.
According to the text of the bill, the personal information of the permittees will only be available to police personnel for the purpose of investigation. Only general statistical information would be available to the public.
The bill was introduced by David Nutter, a delegate from House district 7, and signed by Kaine on March 27.
The bill largely came about after the Roanoke Times legally obtained the database of permittees from the Department of State Police and published it to its Web site in what they described as "an illustration of the Freedom of Information Act." An almost immediate outcry from permit holders caused them to quickly change their minds.
A staff editorial by the Roanoke Times in fact described hearing from thousands of people in the two weeks following the publication of the database, some raising rational objections, others responding with "personal threats of violence and acts of intimidation."
In response to a request for comment, Karenna Glover of the Roanoke Times forwarded a pre-written statement.
"The Roanoke Times admits it made some mistakes and apologizes for potentially putting some individuals at risk by publishing a database of concealed handgun permit holders," the statement said.
Also in the statement, Debbie Meade, president and publisher of the Roanoke Times, said they "did not give sufficient thought to the possibility that the safety of certain individuals on the list, like law enforcement officials and crime victims, could potentially be compromised."
Nutter's office also received complaints from constituents after the publishing of the database.
Shortly after the database was removed, Attorney General Bob McDonnell issued an opinion agreeing with opponents of the database and he closed access to the list. That opinion was followed with agreement from Virginia's Freedom of Information Advisory Council, which recommended his opinion be codified into the Code of Virginia. From there, the bill was written and Nutter carried it to the General Assembly.
"I carried this legislation because many of my constituents were harmed by the Roanoke Times' reckless actions, and I felt we needed a permanent solution to the problem," explained Nutter in the statement from his office. "The Code of Virginia needed to be amended to protect law-abiding citizens from being harassed and exposed to attack."
Virginia Tech campus representatives of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus are firm supporters of the bill as well and believe that the database is a violation of privacy.
"There is no need whatsoever for public access to the database of permit holders. A great number of people decide to get permits because they have been threatened or even mugged in the past. ... It is often the public with access to these databases who abuse it the most," said Alyson Boyce, Tech's SCCC campus leader.
Ken Stanton, the creator of Tech's SCCC chapter, agreed, describing the publication by the Roanoke Times as "an example of how the information can be abused publicly."
Some believe the public should retain access to the information of permittees for a variety of reasons.
Ladd Everett of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence believed that one should be able to audit the database to make sure judges adequately screen applicants and also hold permit holders accountable for their criminal record after receiving the permit.
"There is freedom of information in a democracy. ... I would want to find out as a member of the public. What about someone who lives down the street? What about kids hanging out at other parents' houses? ... Do I want to be aware of that information? Definitely," Everett said.
Everett, Boyce and Stanton agreed, however, that the best approach might be in finding equilibrium between the right to know and the right to privacy.
"Perhaps there is a way to maintain checks and balances but not allow for open, public posting of permit holders' names and addresses," Stanton said.