Barring public access to government documents should not be the default position in Kansas.
There are legitimate reasons to keep some records from public view, but none of those reasons seem to apply to records on who is applying to carry a gun under the state's new concealed carry law.
A bill that would close all information about who applies for, who receives and who is denied a license to carry a concealed weapon in Kansas will be closed under legislation passed on the last day of the Kansas Legislature's wrap-up session and sent to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. The Kansas Press Assn. is urging the governor to veto the bill so that full public debate on closing the records can take place during the next legislative session.
That seems like a reasonable approach.
The concealed carry legislation approved earlier this year was silent on the issue of whether permit records should be open or closed. Without a specific exemption to the Kansas Open Records Act, the application records would be open to the public.
To reverse that circumstance, advocates of the concealed carry law included a specific exemption in a bill that cleaned up certain oversights in the original bill. A compromise worked out by House and Senate negotiations on Wednesday would have shielded all information about a permit applicant except for the person's name and home county.
Even that was too much information for some legislators, including Rep. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth, who defended the closing of the records by saying "You've got to trust somebody in this process."
That, however, is exactly the point. It's much easier to trust a process that can be monitored through access to public records. The public has access to any number of license records: marriage licenses, medical licenses and hunting licenses, just to name a few.
The public also should be able to have at least minimal oversight of who is applying for and receiving permits to carry concealed guns. Private citizens should be able to find out, for instance, whether someone they know to be mentally unstable has been able to get a concealed carry permit. Sometimes a neighbor or relative may know something about an applicant that the state doesn't know. If information is falling through the cracks or being falsified, there is something wrong with the system, and the public has a right to see that it's corrected.
Sen. Phil Journey, a leading advocate of both the concealed carry law and closing the records, points out that about two-thirds of the 47 other states with concealed gun laws close the records on permit-holders. What about the other third? Have they experienced any problems from keeping the records open? Have open records had any impact on the implementation or enforcement of their laws?
Vetoing this bill and forcing proponents to bring it back for full debate in January will provide a wonderful opportunity to research those questions and provide some factual basis on which to decide whether to close the records. If the Legislature acts quickly, there will be no significant delay in the permitting process, due to begin Jan. 1.
Perhaps there will be compelling evidence that the records should be closed. If not, the public should be allowed to monitor the permit process.