Reject threat to open government

Attempts to keep the people from learning what their government is doing behind closed doors often are framed by special interests as steps to rein in the imaginary monolith described as “the media.”

It just is not so.

Like the people we serve, West Virginia newspapers are incredibly diverse. But on one issue – the people’s right to know what government is doing – we are firmly united.

At every level of government, the desire to limit access to information by both the press and individuals is enormous.

That is one reason journalists worry about a bill already approved by the state House of Delegates – and you as Mountain State residents should, too. It is HB 4310, which would make records concerning permits to carry concealed weapons confidential.

HB 4310 is similar to a state Senate bill we addressed earlier this month. As we pointed out then, the measure is unnecessary. We know of no newspaper in West Virginia that has ever published lists of concealed carry permit applicants or holders.

Being able to examine those lists is critically important, however – perhaps to spot trends affecting public safety or even to ensure county sheriffs are being conscientious in approving permits. Reporters may even want to check on complaints by gun owners about permit applications being rejected.

The information may be valuable to individuals, on occasion. For example, should a woman be banned from learning whether an abusive ex-spouse carries concealed weapons?

State senators should reject HB 4310, both for its own lack of merit and because it would encourage other threats to openness in government.

Perhaps unlike people in some regions of the country, most West Virginians have healthy respect for firearms – and no bias against those who own them.

But many Mountain State residents do have deep suspicions about being told what government does is none of our business – especially when it involves an activity such as bearing arms that politicians have decided they should regulate.