Bill protecting IDs of gun owners heads to Perry
By POLLY ROSS HUGHES
AUSTIN — A bill that would cloak the identities of Texans issued concealed handgun licenses by the Texas Department of Public Safety is on its way to Gov. Rick Perry.
The Texas Senate passed the bill Wednesday, adopting identical language to the House to bar the public from viewing the names of concealed handgun licensees.
Meanwhile, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved a separate gun measure to close a loophole that has made it possible for mentally ill Texans to purchase firearms.
The right to check who possesses a concealed handgun license has been in place a dozen years, since the concealed handgun law passed in 1995.
Under current law, an individual can request in writing information on whether a particular person has a concealed handgun license. If the person does, DPS is required to reveal the person's name, date of birth, gender, race and ZIP code.
If Perry signs the bill, that right will disappear for the general public, but DPS can furnish such information to other law enforcement agencies.
'How government works'
"No one supports open records and that policy more than I do. I think that our citizens need to know how our government works," said Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, sponsor of the bill.
"I do not feel that the identity of the (person) offered the license needs to be revealed," he added. "It has nothing to do with protecting the public."
More than 258,000 Texans hold concealed handgun licenses, according to DPS.
Supporters of the bill, including the Texas Rifle Association, say such confidentiality protects personal safety.
They've complained that Texas newspapers have released information on concealed handgun owners, including which members of the Texas Legislature have licenses to carry guns.
They also say criminals such as stalkers or burglars could check public handgun records of potential victims.
But Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he can't see what harm is done if a person wanted to know if a neighbor has a concealed handgun license.
"I would imagine most crooks or people who wanted to assault or steal from you wouldn't check to see whether or not there's a record," he said.
Opponents, including the Texas Daily Newspaper Association, argue that if a person who commits a crime has a state-issued handgun license, the public has a right to know.
They also question whether a criminal would leave a written record of their request for information.
Within minutes of the bill's Senate passage, 27-4, the chamber's criminal justice committee approved a bill by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, tightening controls over who can purchase firearms.
Even though federal law requires criminal background and mental health checks on federally licensed gun sales, a loophole in Texas law has resulted in mentally ill gun purchasers going undetected.
"This has made it possible for persons committed to psychiatric hospitals to purchase and possess firearms, despite having a court finding that they're likely to cause serious harm to themselves or others," Ellis told the committee.
Ellis' bill was filed before the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. It would tighten controls by requiring the state to submit mental health information to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. It would otherwise protect the confidentiality of those with mental illness.