Republican State Senator Pam Roach furiously ripped what she sees as an attempt to expose Washington State gun owners to privacy invasions during a meeting Tuesday of the Public Record Exemptions Accountability Committee, also known as the “Sunshine Committee.”
Under current statute, most people believe that concealed pistol license information is exempt from public disclosure, but that view is now in dispute, with Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, who serves on the Sunshine Committee with Roach, suggesting otherwise.
Roach asserted to Examiner Wednesday that the subject was broached by Holmes for political purposes, an opinion she made quite clear during the meeting, which was recorded. Holmes will officially announce his bid for re-election Thursday with an afternoon event in Seattle. The discussion may be seen here.
There are now more than 405,000 legally-licensed Washingtonians and some non-residents who have active CPLs. The notion that their names and addresses might be made public could cause a political firestorm not unlike what happened in the aftermath of an incident in New York’s Westchester County following the Sandy Hook tragedy. A newspaper there published the names and addresses, with an interactive map, of gun licensees in two counties.
At issue is whether current state law is clear on the matter of confidentiality. There is some concern that the current statute can be interpreted differently by different jurisdictions. Bruce Tanaka with the Department of Licensing’s Firearms Unit said his agency’s position is that the information is confidential; that it is not available to the general public or the press for publication.
Smith asserted that “this is a political move by the City of Seattle.” He reminded the committee, chaired by retired Yakima County Judge Michael Schwab, of what happened in New York after the names of gun licensees there were published. At least one burglary occurred, and Smith noted that publicizing the names of CPL holders is tantamount to giving thieves “a road map to theft.”
“There’s no compelling government interest being shown here,” Smith said. “There definitely is a political interest.”
Holmes defended his effort, while alluding to Roach’s remarks as having included personal attacks.
Smith reminded the committee that when the statute was adopted with the confidentiality language clearly understood, it passed the House 96-0 and the Senate 44-0. He noted that after the discussion, he was approached by Judge Schwab, who “was sympathetic to CPL information being made public.”
Efforts to publicize the identities of gun owners have been mounted primarily by anti-gun newspapers elsewhere in the country. While reporters and editors argue that the public has a right to know who has a gun in their neighborhoods, many in the firearms community believe it is really harassment and an effort to embarrass or shame people for owning guns.
That the question should come up now was no surprise to Roach, who said during the meeting, “I think that we’ve just had a huge battle here in Olympia on a related matter and I think the timing on this is something that makes the motivation of bringing it up right now suspect.”
Despite what appears to have been failed attempts to pass tougher gun laws in Olympia, gun owners are still very much under attack. The U.S. Senate next month will take up several gun control measures, including so-called “universal background checks” and a proposed ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines. As this column noted, an effort to ban so-called “assault weapons” will not be included in the package, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein will bring it up as a proposed amendment.