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Bill forbids recording firearm ownership

Bill forbids recording firearm ownership

Proposed law aims to prevent press, public from learning who owns guns

  • Updated

PHOENIX - Saying it's nobody business, state lawmakers are poised to keep local governments - and anyone else - from finding out who owns a gun.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said he wants to prevent what happened in New York, where a newspaper used state public-records law to get the names and addresses of more than 33,000 gun owners living in the suburbs north of New York City. The Journal News even included an interactive map allowing readers to find out who around them owned a weapon.

Farnsworth said he knows of no such list that exists in Arizona. And existing law already bars collecting information on the person-to-person sale of weapons.

HB 2326 extends that prohibition to purchases made from federally licensed firearms dealers.

But the real heart of the legislation is an outright ban on maintaining any sort of database on those who own a firearm.

The measure already has been approved by the House and received preliminary Senate approval earlier this week.

Farnsworth said there are reasons for concern.

One relates to the White House, which in publicizing the Affordable Care Act, sought to clarify that nothing in the law precludes doctors from asking their patients about whether they own a firearm. An official White House publication says doctors need to be talk to their patients about gun safety.

Farnsworth said nothing in his legislation stops doctors from asking. But he does not want what they learn to end up in some local government database.

He said it's vastly different than having to register a car, saying there is no constitutional right to vehicle ownership.

"I do have a Second Amendment right to own a gun," he said. "That right extends to not having the government have a list of my guns."

He said it's the nature of government to seek to expand its reach.

"Government wants to know, government gets in the middle of everything," Farnsworth said.

"I think it's legitimate for us to say this is something that's none of your business, you have no right to that information," he continued. "We have a right to own guns and unless we're breaking the law you have no right to that information."

Concerns of government intrusion aside, there is the question of who else has would have access to the information.

"There's evidence out there that when lists are kept, that they're not always kept in a safe location," said Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber.

"It gets out to the public," he said. "I think that causes some concern with a lot who are concerned about their civil liberties of being able to be anonymous if they so choose to be that in what they own and what they don't own."

And when government has lists, they can become public. as was proved by the Journal News.

The paper's decision provoked protests from readers. But in a statement issued at the time, Janet Hasson, president of the Journal News Media Group, defended the decision.

"One of our roles is to report publicly available information on timely issues, even when unpopular," she said. Hasson said while the paper knew the online database would be controversial, the editors felt that publishing the information about gun permits in the area "was important in the aftermath of the Newton shootings."

Editor CynDee Royle said in a statement the paper actually had sought not just names and addresses but the number and kinds of weapons in each household. But county clerks, who have that information, declined to provide it.

During the floor debate on the Arizona measure, Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, objected to the legislation.

"I trust local law enforcement, in partnership with local officials, to determine how best to prevent gun violence in their community," she said. Cajero Bedford said the Second Amendment rights of someone to have a firearm must be weighed against "the rights of individuals to be free from gun violence."

Farnsworth said his legislation contains an exception that lets police gather information on gun owners in cases of legitimate law enforcement investigations. He said, though, they need to have probable cause and, when appropriate, a warrant.

Nothing in Farnsworth's legislation undermines the requirement of the state Department of Public Safety to maintain a database of everyone who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon so that police can determine if someone is properly licensed. But that information is not a public record and can be obtained only with a court order.

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