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BDN Concealed Weapons Permit Holder FOAA Request Draws Return Fire - Feb. 14, 2013

CALAIS, Maine (WQDY NEWS)-  The Bangor Daily News has sent letters to all police departments in Maine requesting they make available the records of concealed weapons permits, including the names, addresses and dates of birth of permit holders, that are maintained by the town or the police department -- invoking the state's Freedom of Access Act..

The letter stated, "The Bangor Daily News does not intend to publish wholesale identifying information included in this list."

Here's a copy of the letter sent by fax to the Calais Police Department on Wednesday and provided to us by Calais City Manager Diane Barnes.

"As freedom of access officer, I must acknowledge the receipt of the request, estimate the cost to provide the information and estimate a time when I will respond to the request," Barnes told WQDY NEWS on Thursday.

"Obviously, I have to comply with the law and this is public information."

The city manager said she'd be sending a letter to the newspaper to confirm her compliance with the request.

"Under the current law, the way it stands right now, all the information they are requesting is  public information and I do have to comply with the request."

"I think at this point it's important to get out to the community and let those people know that are on the list that the list is going to be presented to the Bangor Daily News, however, the Bangor daily News does state, they do not intend to publish the information," Barnes said.

At the time WQDY NEWS spoke with Eastport City Manager Jon Southern midday Thursday he wasn't aware whether the city had received the FOAA request from the Bangor Daily News.

WQDY NEWS later confirmed with Police Chief Mark Emery that the police department did in fact received the fax -- it did not come through city hall.

A defiant Southern told us, "I'd say go get your lawyer because we're not giving it up -- especially with that bill pending, Southern said."

Since Southern didn't have a copy of the letter, we read the statement from the newspaper over the telephone, stating (that the BDN)  "does not intend to publish wholesale identifying information included in this list."

"If the Bangor Daily News plays that game in the state of Maine that'll be the end of that newspaper," Southern responded.

"Maine is a massive gun-owning state, everybody in Maine owns a gun. If they want to get into that bull **** they can fight me in court. Let the Bangor Daily bring it on."

"As far as I'm concerned, while there's an emergency bill in the House, I will not be in a rush to release that information until I know the outcome of that bill," Southern said.

The bill Southern referred to being proposed by Republican Rep. Corey Wilson, of Augusta, to make information on concealed-weapons permits confidential.

Wilson said his bill was prompted by a New York newspaper's decision to publish the names and addresses of concealed-weapons permit holders and maps showing where they live in suburbs outside of New York City. Wilson's bill would also make it illegal for the media and others to disseminate the information if they have access to it.

Wilson had told the Kennebec Journal that permit holders are typically law-abiding citizens, and that publicly airing names and addresses makes it easier for criminals to identify where guns are located.

Local police officers who spoke to WQDY NEWS on Thursday could not fathom why the newspaper would make a request for the information then say in their letter, "The Bangor Daily News does not intend to publish wholesale identifying information included this list" of concealed weapons permit holders. "So why bother -- there must be more to it. Once they have it the information who knows what they'll really do with it. It'll be in their files."

Others wondered how the information was really going to be used despite the BDN's statement or how secure the information -- even though it is public information -- was really going to be.

Others pointed out that some victims of domestic violence also have concealed weapons permits for their protection.
On Thursday afternoon, the Bangor Daily News attempted to clarify the letter they sent to law enforcement agencies regarding their FOAA request on their website.

Under the heading,: "Editor's Note: BDN's request for information on concealed weapons permits."

Anthony Ronzio of the BDN staff wrote, "On Wednesday, the Bangor Daily News requested data from Maine police agencies regarding concealed weapons permits in Maine. I'd like to explain our thinking, and clarify our intent.

The BDN requested the records of concealed weapons permits as part of long-term reporting projects on domestic violence, sexual assault and drug abuse.

It always had been the BDN's intent to request this information to support our reporting projects. However, the introduction of legislation to remove these permits from public records accelerated our timeline in doing so.

The BDN has never had any intention to release identifying information about permit holders, and said so in our request. We recognize how sensitive this information is, and made sure police agencies knew of this intent.

We believe the wholesale publication of permit holder information, as was done recently by a newspaper in New York, is irresponsible.

We intend to use this information about permits, along with other information sets we are gathering, to analyze possible correlations relevant to our reporting projects.

I regret the confusion our request has caused. We had hoped that by stating our intent right in our letters, we could have assuaged any concerns it could have caused.

Again, no identifying information about permit holders will be published, and no stories specifically about permit holders are planned," Ronzio wrote.

There's been a lot of reaction.

Governor Paul LePage, issued this statement:: "If newspapers would like to know who has concealed weapons permits, then they should know the Governor has his. I have serious concerns that BDN's request will incite fear among gun owners and non-gun owners alike regarding their safety. There is no reason why these records should be public and I encourage the Legislature to act quickly to make this personal information confidential.

As I have said, the rights of law-abiding citizens to own firearms will not be questioned while I am Governor. That is especially true for those who respect the law enough to go through the process of obtaining a permit to carry concealed," LePage said.

Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan also released a statement in response to the Freedom of Access Act requests by the Bangor Daily News and Rep. Corey Wilson's concealed weapons permit bill.

"At first glance, I'm personally very supportive of Rep. Wilson's bill to protect the rights of concealed weapons permit holders. Seeking a balanced approach to protect the public interest is important, but sensitive information about permit holders should also be protected. Permit holders include domestic violence victims, individuals with protection orders and law enforcement officers who should be protected. The bill needs judicious and thorough review that provides all stakeholders with a chance to weigh in. Maine people believe in the right to know and we take that charge very seriously," McCabe said.

Late Thursday afternoon, a Facebook page sprang up urging people to boycott the newspaper.