Public barred from list of concealed weapons permits
By SEANNA ADCOX - Associated Press Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A new law bars the public from finding out who can carry concealed weapons in South Carolina.

The measure signed into law on Wednesday exempts the identities of the state's more than 61,300 permit holders from what's available through the Freedom of Information Act. Access is now limited to law enforcement or through a court order.

The change was advocated by gun enthusiasts who say publishing gun owners' names violates their privacy, while open-government advocates lost their argument that the government should never issue licenses in secret.

Gov. Mark Sanford, an avid hunter, said he wrestled with the bill because it pitted two principles he considers important against each other - the right to keep and bear arms versus government transparency.

"As important as both of those are, the more important from our perspective is the first," the Republican governor wrote in a letter to legislative leaders.

Sanford considers the permitting itself - requiring someone to get a concealed weapon permit to carry a gun - an infringement on the Second Amendment. Carrying a gun, concealed or not, should be a personal, not governmental, decision, he wrote.

South Carolina was among half a dozen states considering legislation this year closing the list to public scrutiny.

The National Rifle Association has advocated the measures, citing the publishing of gun owners by newspapers in Tennessee, Ohio and New York in the past three years.

The sponsor of the South Carolina bill, Rep. Mike Pitts, said he pushed the measure because of a March 2007 column on The Roanoke Times' Web site, which included a link to the state's more than 135,000 permit holders and their street addresses. Quickly removed after the paper received thousands of complaints, the link evoked reaction from gun enthusiasts nationwide.

Open-government activists have warned the government should never dole out licenses without public oversight, which is needed to ensure the process is handled fairly.

Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, has called it an argument on principle, and that "nothing good happens in secret when it comes to government."

The State Law Enforcement Division has received just five requests in each of the last two years for information on concealed weapon permit holders. The number of requests jumped to 16 so far this year - five of those from the media, according to SLED.

The law, which took effect immediately, also requires the State Law Enforcement Division to publish statistical information yearly on permit holders, applicants and suspensions. It also requires anyone who already has a list of concealed weapon permit holders to destroy it, though there are no penalties for not doing so.