Concealed weapon secrecy approved by Virginia House

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The names of concealed handgun permit holders would be kept secret under legislation passed Tuesday by the House of Delegates.

Sen. Mark Obenshain's bill originally just shielded the names of permit applicants who have obtained protective orders against another person. The House Militia and Police Committee last week expanded the bill to cover anyone who obtains a permit.

The House voted 76-23 to pass the bill. It now goes back to the Senate to consider the House amendment, which Obenshain supports.

"This isn't a gun bill. It's a public safety bill," Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, said a written statement after the House vote. "It simply affirms that exercising a constitutional right should not land your personal information on someone's list with a government assist."

House Democratic Leader David J. Toscano of Charlottesville challenged the propriety of the House amendment, arguing that it expanded a "narrowly drawn" bill well beyond its original intent. He asked for a ruling from House Speaker Bill Howell, who upheld the committee's action.

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said the amended bill would protect the privacy and safety of law-abiding gun owners. He and other supporters of the measure criticized a New York newspaper for recently publishing an interactive map of local residents with handgun permits. That led to a new law in that state allowing permit holders to request that their information remain confidential.

"Some homeowners were subsequently robbed," said Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William. "Their homes were made targets."

In 2007, The Roanoke Times posted the state police concealed weapons database on its website, prompting a backlash from gun-rights activists.

Gilbert said such disclosures stigmatize law-abiding gun owners "like they belong on some list of people to be watched, like sex offenders."

But Del. Joseph Morrissey, D-Henrico, argued that all other state-issued permits are public records.

Open-government groups supported Obenshain's original bill but oppose the expanded version, which is similar to a bill that passed the House last year but was killed by a Senate committee.

"The public will have no ability to monitor government regulation of constitutionally protected activity" if the bill passes and is signed into law, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government says on its website.