“We do not comment on ongoing reporting efforts.” Those were the words of Jim Clarke, the regional bureau chief for the Associated Press in Denver, when asked about the attempt by the AP in Montana to gain access to the full list of concealed weapons permit holders in Montana.
Other questions, including a simple confirmation that the AP in Montana did indeed make the request, were met with the same “we do not comment on ongoing reporting efforts” response from a clearly agitated Clarke.
Earlier this week, I first broke the news that the Associated Press in Montana had asked Attorney General Tim Fox for a complete list of concealed weapons permit holdiers in the state.
Montana Media Trackers also dug into the story, uncovering emails showing that the request came from Montana AP reporter Matt Gouras. Media Tracker’s’ Ron Catlett reached out to the AP for comment and was met with the same no comment response that I got. Here’s more from Catlett’s report:
According to e-mails from MDOJ obtained by Media Trackers Montana, Montana AP reporter Matt Gouras formally requested the information on March 18.
“We’d like all public information included on each permit holder, including, but not limited to: last name, first name, middle, street address, city, employer, age or DOB, driver’s license number, date of application,” Gouras wrote in his request.
Media Trackers Montana reached out to Gouras, who said he “could not speak for the AP.” Gouras directed any inquiries to the head of the Montana Associated Press, Matt Volz, who, in-turn, directed Media Trackers to regional bureau chief Jim Clarke.
Even after a New York newspaper had the gall to publish a list of names of gun permit holders, the Montana Newspaper Association testified in opposition to a gun owner confidentiality bill in Montana.
And now, just over six months after the news out of New York caused an uproar across the nation, the Associated Press in Montana, with little fanfare, quietly asked Montana Attorney General Tim Fox (R-MT) for a list of all concealed weapons permit holders in the State of Montana, and other sensitive data.
A source outside of the Montana Department of Justice sent me a copy of this memo stating the Attorney General’s opinion that a release of permit holders information would violate the Constitutional right to privacy. (h/t Gary Marbut, Montana Shooting Sports Association)
After obtaining the memo I reached out to John Barnes, the Communications Director for Attorney General Tim Fox. Barnes confirmed that two entities, the Associated Press, and a Boston outfit called “MuckRock News,” had requested information on all concealed weapons permit holders in Montana.
Here’s a screenshot from the first page the Attorney General’s opinion:
I found it interesting this morning. Instead of asking the question, “why is the government collecting this type of list containing private information on 30,000 Montanans, and then providing the option to release that data to the public?” The response by the Montana Newspapers Association was instead to testify *against* a gun owner confidentiality bill sponsored by State Sen. Eric Moore (R-Miles City).
I wonder- did the MNA, shall we say, jump the gun in testifying against this bill? Is this how your small town (or big town) Montana newspaper feels about your privacy and your Constitutional rights, both state and Federal?
You can click here to read the full testimony by the MNA. As promised in an earlier post, I reached out to Sen. Moore. I also reached out to Gary Marbut with the Montana Shooting Sports Association (MSSA) for his reaction. Below are there comments.
Here’s an additional comment to add to this post: Montana Attorney General Tim Fox is also supporting efforts to protect gun owner confidentiality. Communications Director John Barnes said via e-mail, “Attorney General Fox is a strong supporter of a citizen’s right to keep and bear arms under both the federal and Montana constitutions. He supports legislative efforts to protect the confidentiality of any information that could be used to publicly identify firearm owners.”
State Sen. Eric Moore (R-Miles City):
As I testified before the committee, this is a fairly straightforward bill. Article II, section 10 of the Montana Constitution states that the right to privacy shall not be infringed “without the showing of a compelling state interest.”
Simply put, nobody has shown me, including the 2 newspapers who testified against the bill today, any compelling state interest for the public to know the names and addresses of law abiding Montanans who choose to obtain a concealed carry permit.
Furthermore, recent events in Westchester county, New York demonstrate the very real consequences of not passing this bill. Montanans who find themselves victims of stalkers, abusive spouses, families of correction system employees should not have to choose between lawfully obtaining a concealed carry permit to protect themselves, and having their name and address on the cover of the paper. That is why the Montana Association of Counties, and the Montana Sheriff’s and Peace Officer’s Association, and well as several local citizens, testified in favor of the bill.
Gary Marbut, Montana Shooting Sports Association (MSSA):
MSSA supports SB 145, both as a practical matter and because of the right to privacy in the Montana Constitution. As a practical matter, putting the identity and discoverable addresses of people with concealed weapon permits into the public domain could endanger women with stalkers, and retired police officers and prosecutors who have helped put bad people in prison. It also places at higher risk people who are also identified as NOT being so well prepared to defend themselves and their homes.
Dan Boyce with Montana Public Radio also has a post up on the topic after attending today’s hearing. Click here for his report.