Over a number of years, the National Rifle Association has pretty much become the National Lightning Rod Association when it comes to gun-control and gun-ownership issues.
Now the Alabama Legislature is on the verge of passing a new law, pushed by the NRA, that would make records of personal gun-ownership private, not public.
On balance, the proposal may not do any real harm.
A bill supported by the National Rifle Association would seal the handgun permits maintained by county sheriffs and make them available only to law enforcement officers. The public would have access to an individual’s records only if the gun owner had committed a felony.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jack Page, D-Gadsden, explained one purpose as preventing the theft of gun-owners’ identity. The permits — which apply only to handguns and are on file at local sheriffs’ offices — include such information as date of birth and eye and hair color. That information could be used to apply for other documents.
In addition, someone with a sizable but lawful arsenal could be targeted by thieves, for whom stolen guns often provide a lucrative income.
The law is not absolute. Handgun-ownership records would still be available to law enforcement officers whenever they needed them.
Second, a person who used a gun to commit a felony would lose his entitlement to secret ownership.
And, presumably, if a gun-ownership issue were to surface in a civil lawsuit, a plaintiff or a respondent might gain access to the records if a judge agreed.
The Alabama Press Association asked that the bill be amended — and it was — to keep statistical and financial information about concealed-weapon permits public. Thus, reporters could use the statistics to report on the number of permits issued by a county and how much money was collected in fees.
If the bill passes, which it may do as early as today, Alabama would join some 30 states with similar statutes.
The one gaping hole in this bill — and even in the arguments of its opponents — is this: No one knows for sure, but there may be as many unregistered handguns in the United States as registered ones, and those unregistered guns, it would seem, may figure in more crimes than registered ones. That problem will remain for the foreseeable future.