It is vital that some public documents be made available to the public and press, simply because the information in them is important. That is why West Virginia has a public records law, requiring that government officials make most documents available to anyone who asks for them.
A bill approved by the West Virginia state Senate would limit that access in an unacceptable manner. It is SB 378, a measure initially intended to improve cooperation between our state and others in regard to permits to carry concealed weapons.
But the measure also states that information regarding permits issued by county sheriffs would be kept secret, unless a court order to the contrary in specific cases is issued.
To our knowledge, this newspaper never has published lists of those obtaining permits to carry concealed weapons. However, sealing records of such permits would make it impossible for the press-and the public-to know who in our communities may be carrying dangerous weapons in public. We-and you-would have no way of knowing whether someone who might be a threat to our safety has been issued a concealed weapons permit.
Some defenders of the bill have said they want permit information kept confidential because they worry about publicizing the names of victims of domestic violence who are carrying weapons for self-defense. As critics of that stance have pointed out, a ban on access to permit information would deprive such victims, who may never have filed criminal complaints, of knowing whether their abusers are carrying concealed weapons.
SB 378 is a blatant, serious infringement upon the public's right to know-to have information that may bear on our safety. Fortunately, there is an alternative. A bill passed by the House of Delegates, HB 3314, would improve cooperation among states in regard to concealed weapons permits. It would not ban public and press access to permit records. Delegates should insist that their version of the bill, not the state Senate's, be enacted.