RICHMOND, Va. - A state advisory panel wants to limit access to a database of Virginians allowed to carry concealed handguns.

The proposed legislation would prohibit the state police from releasing the names of Virginia residents with concealed-carry permits. Records of concealed-carry permits would remain available on a locality-by-locality basis at circuit courts, which issue the permits.

State police could also continue to release statistical summaries and related data about concealed-carry permits.

The information on permit-holders had been considered a public record until March, when an editorial writer at The Roanoke Times wrote a column encouraging readers to check the list and included a link to the database with the names and addresses of more than 135,000 Virginians. The newspaper obtained the database under the Freedom of Information Act.

The newspaper said hundreds of readers complained on its message board and to a gun-rights group that publishing the names of those with permits to carry concealed weapons violated the privacy of law-abiding citizens and gave potential criminals information that would help them find victims.

The Times removed the database after receiving the complaints.

In response to the outrage, lawmakers vowed to take steps to restrict access to the information. On the advice of Attorney General Bob McDonnell, the state police ended access to the list.

Now, based on legislation endorsed last week by the state Freedom of Information Advisory Council, the ban would be permanent.

The 12-member panel, which is appointed by the General Assembly, includes a mix of government, academic, legal and media representatives.

Critics of the newspaper's decision to post the statewide database noted that the permit list contains the names and addresses of crime victims and witnesses who may have concealed-carry permits for protection.

"I think the real concern here was that there were a lot of people on that list who were victims of crime, who had been stalked or who had been in abusive situations," said House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, a member of the council.

Council member Craig Fifer of Alexandria questioned the logic of the proposal.

"It strikes me almost as a little bit insulting to the public as customers of government to say that it's OK for them to get it as long as it's inconvenient," he said.

Source: Daily Press