Pistol sales and permit records would not be subject to FOIA requests
Michigan's handgun owners could get an extra layer of privacy protection if a newly introduced Senate bill is passed and signed into law.
Senate Bill 49 was introduced by Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, and would keep state databases containing information on issued licenses private. It also would keep them from being subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Concealed pistol licenses in Michigan already are protected as private information under state law. However, pistol sales records and pistol sales permits are now protected only by case law, said Ryan Mitchell, a legislative staffer who researched the law for Sen. Mike Green’s office. It was ruled in the 1999 Michigan Supreme Court Case, Mager vs. the Michigan State Police, that pistol sales records and pistol sales permits were private information, but no law specifically says that.
The Supreme Court ruling only gives the state police the option to deny FOIA requests, and doesn’t mandate it, said Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Wright said if the state police wanted to, they could release the information.
The state Supreme Court has the final authority but it would have a hard time justifying overturning the state law, Wright said.
Language in the proposed bill states the information is confidential and "shall not be disclosed."
“This really makes these protections concrete and sets them in stone." Mitchell said. "You don't want to be broadcasting to criminals the location of legally-owned firearms."
Steven Dulan, a Lansing attorney and member of the NRA and the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners applauded the bill.
"This is a useful step from protecting Michigan gun owners from abuses similar to what happened in New York," Dulan said, adding that people who don't own guns also benefit from gun ownership being kept confidential because it forces "predators to think twice before breaking into anyone's home."
Dulan was referring to the national furor created when The Journal News newspaper in New York published the names and addresses of gun permit holders in their circulation area and included an online map showing the location of the homes of the gun owners.
Since then, at least one person blames the map for his home being burglarized and there are reports that prisoners have told guards that they know where they live thanks to the newspaper. The state of New York legislature passed a law that allows gun owners a way to keep that information private.
Mackinac Center legislative analyst Jack McHugh said the controversy generated by the newspaper publishing the names could make Senate Bill 49 one of the first Public Acts passed in 2013.
"The stars are aligned for this bill," McHugh said.