Last night, Sen. Will Longwitz sent out an email blast saying that a bill that he had introduced in the Senate had been essentially mirrored in the House and he was supporting that bill. HB 485 sponsored by Rep. Mark Baker, would prevent media from receiving lists of individuals who have concealed carry licenses. That bill passed on the House floor today (Tuesday). The crux of the bill is that “The name, home address, any telephone number or other private information of any person who possesses a weapon permit issued under Section 45-9-101 or Section 97-37-7 shall be exempt from the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983.”
This is in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting and a New York newspaper article that literally mapped owners of concealed carry licensees, which gives criminals a road map of who has guns in an area and who doesn’t. It was a political statement, no doubt, and had ripple effects through those communities.
In his email, Longwitz stated that a ‘Tupelo newspaper’ had requested that information via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. That information is kept by the Department of Public Safety. After some digging, I was able to isolate the source of the request.
JB Clark is a beat writer for the NE Mississippi Daily Journal. A relatively young reporter, his beat is basically crime/public safety for the Daily Journal. When contacted, he shared with me the language of the request. It states that he seeks, “A record of all Lee County residents permitted to carry a concealed firearm as well as residents with concealed carry enhancements”.
The wording in the request is key. They didn’t ask for “the number of Lee County residents with a permit” so they could do generic statistical tracking (i.e. “according to DPS, Lee County has 1,436 registered concealed carry holders” or some such). When pressed for further clarification of the request’s intent, Clark declined. Maybe the former (statistical overview) was actually the intent, but a reasonable person could read that and think they were asking for names. Jim Prince, head of the MS Press Association, visited with Lloyd Gray, publisher of the Daily Journal who gave assurances that the goal was not to print the names of concealed carry holders in Lee County. In fact, Gray is saying that their efforts are indeed more around a statistical analysis. But the language in the request they made certainly doesn’t make that clear. And later in the request, they asked “I would like the opportunity to review the documents retrieved or your document index in order to select the records to be copied.”
Jim Prince wrote a pretty insightful article last week about whether or not this proposed law is a good idea. Personally, given my experience with an incredibly biased press-establishment, I have to say that I have yet to determine conclusively which evil is worse. I have responsibly fought public records fights and won, so I certainly have an appreciation for the cause, but for the life of me, I can’t get my brain around what the press or a private citizen would need with the name, address or other personal information related to whether or not they had a concealed carry permit. This request is to get a list of people that have complied with the law, not violated it. In the digital age, a card laid is a card played and it is almost impossible to unring the digital bell.
Let’s be clear. I really distrust government, but the mainstream media (particularly print media) runs a REALLY close second place in my distrust department. At the end of the day, we’ve learned that the watchers need to be watched. It’s a big reason why YallPolitics still exists. People who parade around under the banner of being “journalists” in my experience usually are the most suspect. Those who claim they are unbiased are the ones that need to be watched the closest. New Media has been the check on old media in the last decade and our eyes have been opened both nationally and locally as to the mechanics of institutionalized press bias.
The bill has passed the House. Whether or not it passes the Senate and gets signed by the Governor is still an open question and reasonable people can disagree as to whether or not that’s a good thing. And at the end of the day, the Daily Journal hasn’t done anything really wrong, yet. But their request in light of what has gone on in New York and other states has thrown gas on this fire and bears watching. In fact, it’s likely fueled the fervor for the action in the Legislature and it would be hard for Lloyd Gray & Company to not see that as a likely effect of their actions. If you throw gas on the fire like that, if any heat comes off, you need to be willing to deal with it. My hope is that the subscribers and advertisers of the Daily Journal hold them accountable to use that information responsibly if they get it.