Why must the genealogical community go out of its way to pick fights and create enemies?
The current issue of Virginia restricting records access as an intended consequence of a law to protect the privacy of law abiding Virginians was brought to my attention by my colleague, the Legal Genealogist, Judy Russell in her blog post, "Virginia call to arms." In it, she explains:
The purpose of S. 1335, now Chapter 659 of the 2013 Acts of Assembly of Virginia, was to protect the privacy of those who have applied for and received permits to carry concealed weapons. The fiscal statement accompanying the bill simply said that it “prohibits the clerk of a circuit court who issued a concealed handgun permit from disclosing any applicant information” and that it was “not expected to have any material fiscal impact on the court system.”
But that the law of unintended consequences chimed in:
As a result of Chapter 659, there’s been a dramatic change at the Library of Virginia, Virginia’s fabulous state archives-and-library in Richmond, where — until this law was passed — you could simply pull a reel of microfilm out of a drawer and immerse yourself in the minutia of 18th, 19th and early 20th century court records.
But because of this law, the court record books and the index rolls to those record books were pulled from the accessible microfilm. And not just a few records. At last count, there were more than 220 rolls of microfilm including court order books, indexes of court order books, indexes to court cases that are affected. At least 135 of those reels contain nothing but records that are more than 100 years old.
So, we know two things to sum up: there is majority support to protect the privacy of concealed carry weapons permit applications and that the lack of any time constraint in the new law forces University of Virginia and state employees to look up information for records access on historical records that used to have open access.
Certainly, reasonable people could come to an understanding to fix this problem. But no. The "fix" currently proposed would protect the privacy of living people for only five years. This arbitrary number seeming pulled out of thin air undermines the logic of the underlying law: "designed to keep criminals from getting information about people who own guns today" as Judy's follow up post explained.
Unless there is an argument can be proven that firearms owners don't keep any weapons for as long as five years in their lives or that they never stay at the same address for that long, the five year "fix" contravenes the rationale of the underlying law and should be rejected in the name of privacy as well as public safety.
As I explained when I testified before the
Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary,
Council of the District of Columbia in 2008 in the wake of the DC v. Heller decision:
The registration process of the regulations create a dossier of citizens. Probably the greatest concern of the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights is the Big Brother surveillance concerns of the gun registration.
We know that broadly half of the data abuse problems come from internal abuses: either those who should have legitimate use of that data and abuse it or allow others who should not have such access to get use of our information. Identity fraud (popularly called identity theft) is a serious and growing problem . . .
The worst possible scenario would be for the city to institute a gun registration program that makes public a list of gun owners in the District who would then become targets for gun theft. Under such a scenario, we would then potentially increase the number of guns in the hands of criminals, increase crime and further victimize law-abiding, peaceable people.
The genealogical community, particularly the Virginia Genealogical Society, should demonstrate that they care more about potential gun victims, privacy concerns such as identity fraud and protecting Constitutionally-recognized rights more than they do insisting on five year access to information about living people.
Just how tone deaf is the genealogical community?
Now is the time for leadership: take a stand against gun violence and identity fraud and suggest a friendly amendment to the "fix" with a 100 year time delay which would not affect the majority of the concerned records, or at least a 74 year one to harmonize with privacy expectations set by the U.S. Census.
The goal of records access would advance more by outreach and involvement with broader coalitions of good government, records access, and whistleblowers than senselessly antagonizing the privacy community and needlessly making new enemies among the Second Amendment supporters.
EDIT: While some in the genealogical community might pooh pooh the idea that making firearm permit applications public might encourage criminals to dust off records in libraries or jeopardize law-abiding firearms owners, they need to pull their head out of the sand. A quick Google search shows that almost exactly a year ago, the New York Times ran a story "Newspaper Takes Down Map of Gun Permit Holders" spelling out exactly these real concerns.
This was not an isolated incident. The same thing happened in Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, Maine, Iowa, North Carolina, Missouri, previously in Virginia, and other places. Seriously, law abiding gun owners don't like being outed like sexual predators.