Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sun-Herald reports on our DPS tiff

It looks like the rejection of my little public records request submitted to the Department of Public Safety for the concealed carry permit applications approved in 2011 and 2012 by the Department of Public Safety attracted some attention. The Sun-Herald's Michael Newsom wrote in the Sunday edition: (Yes, this podunk blog appeared in a Sunday paper. We have arrived.)

"Criminals beware -- the Mississippi Department of Public Safety can now predict the future.

The operator of the Jackson Jambalaya blog recently made a public-records request to the agency and received a head scratcher of a response. The Jackson area blogger, who goes by the name Kingfish, was told his request for a list of concealed-weapons permits issued in 2011 and 2012 by the agency was being denied.

The reason? The agency's staff used their soothsaying powers to forecast state law was going to change to keep those private, thus the DPS lawyers reasoned they couldn't cough up that info. They also cited privacy concerns and the potential for threats against those who hold the permits.

"Due to the privacy concerns of the individuals associated with this request, we cannot provide this information," the department response said. "Moreover, in view of Second Amendment freedoms associated with firearm possession and in view of pending changes to the Mississippi Public Records Act currently before the Mississippi Legislature, it is the opinion of the Department it cannot release this information."

The letter said the release of such information could place gun-permit holders "in a precarious situation most assuredly not contemplated when they originally released this information to the state of Mississippi in the application process."

The response, which was signed by Warren Strain, DPS public affairs director, was developed by the agency's legal counsel, Strain told the Sun Herald.

House Bill 485 would make confidential all gun owners' personal information such as names, phone numbers and addresses. It has passed the House. If it clears the Senate and the governor signs it, it would take effect immediately, according to the current version of the bill.

Kingfish couldn't be reached for comment, but he posted the letter from DPS on his blog . (He didn't write "The Kingfish" but we will forgive him this time. Rookie mistake, you know.).

I've made a lot of public-records requests, but I've never gotten a response this off the mark. In most cases, I'd usually give state agencies a few creativity points for coming up with much more legal-sounding ways to deny records that belong to the public. This one, on the other hand, is silly, no matter your feeling on the Second Amendment.


I'm no lawyer -- though I watch a lot of TV legal dramas -- but you don't have to accept my analysis of the issue. Actual lawyer Leonard Van Slyke, a Jackson attorney who specializes in open-government issues, was also struck by the position DPS took.

"However one feels about the exemption to the public records law that is currently being debated in the Legislature, it has not been enacted at this point," Van Slyke told me. "All public bodies are bound to follow the law as it currently exists, not how the public bodies believe it will exist in the future."

Using an example to back up his point, Van Slyke notes the Legislature has been debating raising the speed limit, too. He doesn't advise setting your cruise control a little higher just yet.
I
"I must follow the current speed limit and law enforcement bodies are bound to enforce the current speed limit even though both of us may feel it will be raised to 75 at some time in the future," Van Slyke said." Rest of column

I will now make something clear for Shadowfax and others who lack reading comprehension skills: I have no intention of publishing the names of applicants. I filed the request to see exactly what was available under the law. I have a strong disagreement with DPS over what the law is. They didn't cite any statutes or cases. They made up law. Do you really want a government agency in Mississippi making up public records law out of thin air? Wait until your loved one is murdered and the police say "you know, we don't have to give you any police reports. We aren't going to tell you why, we just don't think you need it." Do you want the Hinds or Madison County Board of Supervisors refusing to provide invoices or contracts for engineers and lawyers while stating they are protecting them? Start thinking about the reasons given by DPS and how they can be used by other government bodies.  Now the question is, do we really need to pass such a bill if according to DPS, the law already bans the release of such information?

9 comments:

KaptKangaroo said...

I guess we have to finally admit, you are now a journalistic authority. Well at least you haven't abandoned your integrity and started publishing drink schedules for the local happy hour, yet.

Anonymous said...

*** Best Investigative Journalist in Mississippi ... In Any Media Format ... Is Kingfish ... Bar NONE! ***

Shadowfax Dropping By said...

Since you felt compelled to mention me specifically, I'll attempt to reply (not that you'd publish my reply).

Reading comprehension skills aside, neither your request for the information nor your lead in to the blog thread (in which you covered Strain's response) said Jack-S about your intentions to NOT publish the records, had you received them.

Had you made that clear up front, it would have been, well....clear.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kingfish AND Shadowfax. Longtime readers here knew immediately what Kingfish was up to but newbies, Kingfish, did not and thus Shadow's point.

Anonymous said...

Your ability KF to work the FOIA process is amazing and our state is a better place because of your efforts.

Do you have any status on the Motorola-Hinds transparency lawsuit?

Charlie Ali said...

I admire the work of fact finders and government investigators. It is a journalistic story that they denied you (and theoretically us)the government records. Government, as a God-ordained institution, acts like the Almighty in the sense that they create all manner of legal opinions, rules, and commentaries of commandments. That is why we pray God grant them wisdom.

Anonymous said...

As has been mentioned before, the primary reason for denial was "Due to the privacy concerns of the individuals associated with this request..."

The pending legislation was mentioned as an additional concern.

I don't think your intent with the info would have mattered; I simply refuse to believe that DPS would have given the info regardless of your intent. As a concealed carry permit holder, I really don't care what you wanted to do with the info. I'm glad you were denied.

Furthermore, if you're all worked up about it, take DPS to court. My guess is that you'd rather write a bunch of spin here about how DPS isn't complying with the law than pursue an avenue that could remedy that.

Anonymous said...

Warren Strain is not an attorney. He's a "spokesman". The attorneys at DPS are generally minimally qualified to walk and chew gum at the same time much less formulate legal opinions.

Anonymous said...

As in most industrialized countries, the bureaucracy rules. They are the rule makers. Not the law maker. Their rules are the law of the land until challenged in court or the attorney general makes a formal opinion letter available. The attorney general does have staff farmed out to various state agencies so agency legal experts have their connections.

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If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

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