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Lawmaker asks to exempt gun records from right-to-know law

State House Bureau

January 23. 2014 8:26PM

CONCORD - Gun records would be exempt from the right-to-know law under a bill that seeks to prevent the release of the names and addresses of people with concealed weapon permits.

House Bill 1379, along with seven or eight other right-to-know bills, will be reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee at a work session Feb. 11.

At a public hearing Thursday, HB 1379's prime sponsor, Rep. Jeff Goley, D-Manchester, said he wants to prevent a situation that occurred in December 2012. Citing the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the Westchester N.Y. Journal News published the names and addresses of people in the area who held concealed weapons permits. The newspaper obtained the information through a right-to-know request, Goley told the committee.

"I do not want that to happen in New Hampshire," Goley told the committee. "One of the biggest concerns is publishing a list now gives those who want illegal access to firearms addresses to where these firearms are, and has the possibility of putting more illegal guns out on the streets."

He said he checked with law enforcement, which did not testify about the bill, and was told the information is confidential under existing statute.

Goley said his bill would simply add firearm records to right-to-know law exemptions.

Under the bill, police and government agencies would still have access to the information.

Other states also restrict access to firearm records, including Massachusetts. But not all exempt the records under right-to-know laws.

The bill was opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union New Hampshire, which said it weakens government transparency without any demonstration there is a need to protect the records.

"There should not be categorical exemptions under the right-to-know law absent a compelling privacy interest that outweighs the compelling interest in ensuring that the public is able to openly view the government's actions," ACLU's attorney, Gilles Bissonnette, said.

The right-to-know law already contains privacy protections allowing a person's address to be redacted from license information, he noted.

"Because the right-to-know law already exempts certain personal information from being disclosed, there seems to be little evidence that firearm owners in New Hampshire have been subjected to persecution and there seems to be little evidence that the lack of an exemption for firearms records has created a chilling effect with respect to people seeking certain firearms licenses," Bissonnette said.

The bill was backed by Joe Hannon of Lee, who said it would protect women who were abused and now own a gun for their protection.

Their abuser is able to know they have a gun and can take precautions, Hannon said.

"When people know you have something," Hannon, a physician, said, "you become a target."

He noted motor vehicle license information is confidential, as is information about prescriptions.

"When a newspaper publishes an interactive website where someone can go there and see where people have guns," Hannon said. "That is dangerous."

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