guest commentary by Lee Watson
Unconcealed concealed carry.
If that sounds like it doesn't make sense, you're right, it doesn't make sense. But, it is what an Arkansas Senate committee, led by Sen. Ed Wilkinson, D-Greenwood, has done in bowing to Gov. Mike Beebe, the Arkansas Press Association, the Arkansas Times’ publisher Alan Leveritt and editor Max Brantley, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s editor David Bailey.
On Feb. 16, 2009, Brantley published an online blog with a link to download the names and addresses of Arkansas’ approximately 60,000 concealed handgun carry licensees. In response to the outrage of his constituents of this violation of their privacy, Rep. Randy Stewart, D-Kirby, and concealed carry instructor proposed House Bill 1623 which would exempt all information related to licensees from disclosure under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
HB 1623 passed the Arkansas House 98 to 1. It was expected to easily pass the Senate until it ran into Beebe and Wilkinson. In concert with the Arkansas Press Association, they forced an amendment that allows for the release of the names and corresponding zip codes of licensees. It then passed the Senate 34 to 0.
Arkansas has concealed carry as opposed to open carry so that no one knows whether someone is carrying a handgun. Keeping a handgun concealed prevents public alarm and is a greater deterrent to criminals as they don't know who might be carrying a handgun — and is a reason violent crime has gone down in states with concealed carry.
Disclosure of the names and zip codes of licensees endangers licensees and those who have the same or similar name. With the vast amount of personal information available on the internet, a name and zip code is enough to obtain a person’s home address. A quick search gave me the names and addresses of five people named Lee Watson in Arkansas, yet none of them are me! Giving a criminal the knowledge or mistaken belief that a person is carrying a handgun removes the advantage of the element of surprise for the victim and gives the criminal critical knowledge that can be used to prevent the victim from being able to effectively use their concealed handgun.
Freedom of Information has little or no place in this argument. Brantley made his purpose clear when he titled his blog the “Annals of Gun Nuttery.” His purpose was to intimidate gun owners and put in public purely private information. This wasn't a journalist’s noble effort to make our government better. It was a blatant and obtuse attack for purely political purposes. His actions endangered licensees who are victims of domestic abuse, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and others who have taken legitimate efforts and have legitimate needs to keep their addresses out of the public domain.
We need Freedom of Information to shine light on government action and government employees to make certain that government functions honestly, properly and openly. But, the release of names and zip codes of licensees doesn't serve that purpose. Worse yet, it is likely that the actions of Beebe, Wilkinson and Brantley and others in the media who insisted on the release of this private and personal information will get someone harmed.
Lee Watson is an attorney of more than 20 years and is Arkansas State Police concealed handgun carry instructor #95-109. He is a Fort Smith native, obtained a degree in criminal justice from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and his law degree from the University of Arkansas. Contact Watson at BrowningP35@me.com