By EMILY W. PETTUS
JACKSON — The Mississippi House voted Tuesday to block public access to information about state-issued permits for people to carry concealed weapons.
House Bill 485, backed by the National Rifle Association, passed 101-18. It moves for more debate in the Senate, where a similar bill has been filed.
The House bill’s sponsor is Republican Mark Baker of Brandon, who chairs the Judiciary A Committee. He said he filed it at the request of constituents who were upset that a newspaper in New York published the names and addresses of people who have concealed weapons permits after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. He said the publication made law-abiding citizens “sitting ducks.”
“I don’t want to make those that are trying to protect themselves and their families susceptible to harm,” Baker told the House in arguing to close the records.
Mississippi Press Association president Jim Prince has said he objects to exempting concealed weapons permit information from the public records law.
Democratic Rep. David Myers of McComb said people should retain the right to know whether people in places such as stores or movie theaters have permits to carry guns under jackets or in bags.
“The general public has a right to know that the person down the street or around the corner has a permit to carry concealed weapons,” Myers said.
Lloyd Gray, executive editor of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo, said the newspaper recently requested public records about concealed-carry permits in the region. He said the request was part of the newspaper’s reporting about trends in gun buying or gun possession.
“We have absolutely no intention of publishing any names or addresses,” Gray told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Gray said he agrees with the press association’s position. “It’s not a good precedent to close records,” he said.
Baker said people who obtain concealed weapons permits must undergo background checks. He said he believes they’re among the most law-abiding citizens in Mississippi and across the nation. He also said submitting a name, address and other information for a state permit doesn’t mean the information should be open to anyone who requests it.
“It certainly should not be available to those who would take the information and blast it on the Internet and other places,” Baker said.
The House voted 108-10 Tuesday for House Bill 2, which seeks to clarify the definition of concealed weapon in state law. The bill says concealed would mean a weapon obscured from the view of others but would not include a gun carried in a holster that is wholly or partially visible.
House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said a nonbinding legal opinion issued by the attorney general last year left many people confused about whether a holstered gun is considered concealed. The bill also moves to the Senate.