Some within the media have wrapped themselves in the flag of the freedom of access law. They are rallying to oppose legislation proposed by the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) and sponsored by Rep. Corey Wilson, Augusta that would make concealed weapons permit holders names and information private. Critics of this legislation are ignoring recent history in New York.
Just after the Connecticut school shooting, the Gannett- owned, Journal News published the names, addresses and a detailed map of concealed permit holders in two New York Counties. The action was obviously a provocative attempt to label law abiding concealed permit holders with a scarlet letter.
In a Fox News story titled: “Burglars Hit Home of Gun Owner ID’d by Newspaper”, New York State Senator Greg Ball was quoted: “The Journal News has placed the lives of these folks at risk by creating a virtual shopping list for criminals and nut jobs,” said Ball. “If the connection is proven, this is further proof that these maps are not only an invasion of privacy but that they present a clear and present danger to law-abiding, private citizens.”
The response from the New York legislature and Americans was swift and overwhelming. Under intense pressure, New York passed legislation protecting this information. Twenty three states ban the release of any information about permit holders another 12 states limit the release in some form. The Journal News then pulled the map from their web site. What was absent from this debate was an outcry from journalists and editorial writers regarding the misuse of the Freedom of Access Law.
In the case of the Journal News, reporters didn’t use the information gathered to hold government officials accountable. Instead, in the wake of the Connecticut shooting, they used the information to expose law abiding gun owning citizens for some political motivation-the very opposite of the intent of the Access law.
The Maine Freedom of Information Coalition makes this statement on their web site, which reinforces my point:
“The Maine Freedom of Information Coalition believes that government best serves the public when it operates in the most open manner possible. We seek broad access to information of and about government and the actions of government in order to do that. Government in the sunshine, we believe, is the best guarantor of a strong democracy.”
The entire state freedom of access statute speaks of citizen’s rights to access the work of government, not the right of individuals or groups to use the public’s information for political purposes!
In the wake of this controversial scandal, SAM introduced legislation to make concealed permit information confidential here in Maine. Just one day after running a story about this bill, the Bangor Daily News (BDN) revealed they had requested the same information, but did not plan to make it public. Again, the firestorm was swift and just a day later under pressure from Maine people, the BDN rescinded their request.
We thought the crisis was over. However, just hours later, I learned that two anonymous entities had made identical requests of Maine police departments. In a surprise to many, it appears that state law does not compel individuals requesting FOAA information to reveal their identity. Could we surmise these latest FOAA requests for concealed permit holders are also press outlets attempting to avoid the same backlash as the Bangor Daily News?
Does anyone else recognize the incredible hypocrisy of journalists using a loophole in the FOAA law to hide their identity and then claiming they support transparency and accountability for everyone else?
There are several indisputable facts in this debate:
SAM introduced this bill because we were concerned for the safety of Maine citizens and their property. Maine law enforcement has confirmed on many occasions they also share that public safety concern. We just wish the press would spend as much energy outing the bad guys as persecuting the good guys.
By David Trahan