Not even in office and the assault on our 2nd amendment rights begin.
Once public, permit names now secret
Some say open gun records can help law officers
By Ben Shouse
PUBLISHED: December 18, 2006
If there is anything South Dakotans value as much as gun rights, it's privacy.
So when the state Legislature combined the two issues early this year - in a bill keeping the names of pistol permit holders private - only five of the 100 legislators opposed it.
Rep. Maggie Gillespie, D-Hudson, said she pushed the change because of a conversation with a constituent.
"They were frustrated that the permits were being published, and why that was necessary," she said recently. "They haven't done anything wrong. The reason to carry a concealed permit is really defeated if the person's name who is carrying the permit is going to be published."
Other supporters of the new law say publishing the names could lead to more thefts of firearms, the total loss of which surpassed $43,000 in 2004.
But advocates of open records - including the Argus Leader editorial board - say there are clear benefits to public scrutiny of pistol permits.
A permit is necessary to carry a pistol concealed on one's person or in a vehicle. It is not necessary to get a permit merely to own a pistol, or to transport it unloaded in a large case or a vehicle compartment, according to Attorney General Larry Long.
A few newspapers, including this one, routinely published the names of new permit holders until those names were sealed July 1.
"That type of information is fundamental to being accessible to the public," said David Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association in Brookings.
"By shutting off access to that information for the public, you have reduced a safety issue there. You have taken away a tool that could be used for one's personal safety."
Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead largely agrees.
He said he does not know of any example of someone being targeted for theft or harassment because they had a permit. But he said there have been cases where publication of permit holders' names proved helpful.
"On occasion, we would get information from a citizen who would notice a name of a person who got a permit, for example, where the subject could have been involved in an out-of-state domestic case that would raise concerns," he said.
"We don't know who may have been just released from a mental health facility," he said. "And we shouldn't have access to mental health medical records of the people who apply for them."
Background checks prevent felons and others convicted of violent crimes from buying any firearm. But state law lets sheriffs refuse a concealed pistol permit for other reasons, including habitual intoxication, mental incompetence or a history of violence.
Milstead says he has asked several people to surrender their permits as a result of citizens seeing their names published.
Rep. Mary Glenski of Sioux Falls was one of the legislators who voted against the measure, and she cited a reason similar to Milstead's. A constituent had seen the name of an unstable student published in the list of new permit holders.
"He immediately notified his principal, and they were more conscious of it," she said.
Sen. Dave Knudson, R-Sioux Falls, was one of the other handful of "no" votes.
"It might be important for a potentially abused spouse to know that their spouse - or former partner, what have you - obtained a pistol permit," he said.
Sen. Gene Abdallah, R-Sioux Falls, voted for the bill and said he did not put much stock in Knudson's reasoning.
"My argument was, if I'm going to go kill my ex-wife, I'm not going to take the time to get a pistol permit because it's a $100 fine or whatever," he said.
Proponents of closing the permit records said a greater danger is that permit holders could be targeted for harassment or for thefts while they are not at home.
That was the same argument the Florida Legislature made this year when it overwhelmingly passed a law closing its pistol permit records.
The bill said the records "could be used to harass an innocent person based solely on that person's exercised right to carry a concealed weapon or firearm."
Editorial writers at the St. Petersburg Times and other newspapers condemned the measure.
"This is trust-me government at its worst, and Floridians should be concerned about the erosion of public accountability," a Times editorial said.
South Dakota law enforcement officers are divided on the issue. Milstead and others say the public benefit outweighs the desire for privacy.
"What does it hurt to let people know who's carrying firearms? That's just my personal opinion," said McCook County Sheriff Gene Taylor. "If I lived next to somebody that had one, I'd kind of like to know that."
But Sanborn County Sheriff Tom Fridley said, "That does not need to be public information."
He said he worries that criminals could choose their targets based on who does not have a pistol permit.
"If they don't know that this small, defenseless old lady - and I have some of them - happens to be packing a snubby, they might not go through with it," Fridley said.
South Dakota gun owners also are divided.
David Conway of Black Hawk, legislative affairs director for the South Dakota Shooting Sports Association, testified to the Legislature in favor of closing the records. So did the National Rifle Association, which also helped push the Florida bill.
"That is a privacy matter with gun owners. That's the way gun owners feel in the state," Conway said recently. He said the arguments about safety from either side do not sway him from that belief.
"There are all kinds of scenarios that could play out, and the risk factor doesn't just play out, in my opinion," he said.
"We're a gun society. I'm not really too concerned with it. Sure, there are mistakes, and there are accidents out there, but they are very, very rare."
In interviews with pistol permit holders for this story, none spoke out strongly for keeping permit records open. Many were like Janet Barnhouse, 35, a Salem resident studying to be a criminologist.
"I don't see why it's a big deal," she said.
Many gun owners say they don't mind seeing their names in print when they renew a permit.
"Half of us in the state have one of these pistol permits. What do I care if people know I've got one?" said Roger Paulsen, 54, a Sioux Falls optician. He said the only effect of his name being published is when friends see it.
"I've had people come up to me and say, 'Hey, we saw your name, now we know how old you are!' "
Annoyance for some
Others are irritated when their names are published. John Blosmo, 60, a carpenter and retired teacher from Bison, said it always bothered him when his teacher's salary showed up in the paper, and the same goes for his pistol permit.
"I would lean towards, I mean, what good are people going to receive from knowing that?" he said. And he doesn't buy the argument that publication helps law enforcement weed out people who ought not to have a gun.
"I would think that maybe they need to be a little more thorough with their background check."
Handgun owners of all opinions point out that reopening pistol permit records still would not reveal some key firearms information. Citizens still could own pistols without having a permit, and criminals still could obtain and conceal pistols illegally.
And there has never been much public information on rifles and shotguns, which are more common in South Dakota than handguns.
"I've got three other guns in the house that are a lot bigger and more powerful than that little pistol," said Ken Scott, 67, a retired Salem resident.
Arguments and counterarguments aside, there seems little chance that lawmakers will reopen pistol permit records in the near future.
Knudson, who voted against closing the records, is now Senate majority leader. But he has not heard of any plans to try and change the law in 2007.
"Absolutely none, and I couldn't imagine based on the kind of vote it had," he said.
Reach Ben Shouse at 331-2318.
These people had concealed pistol permits as of June 30. The records were closed by the Legislature as of July 1.
State senators (2006 session)
U.S. Sen. John Thune
Gov. Michael Rounds
Chief Justice David Gilbertson
Circuit Judge William Srstka
Circuit Judge Arthur Rusch
Circuit Judge Warren Johnson
Circuit Judge Max Gors
Circuit Judge Thomas Trimble
Qadir Aware, executive director, Multi-Cultural Center of Sioux Falls
Argus Leader newsroom employees
Chuck Baldwin, opinion editor
Levi Chiodi, graphic designer