JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday that his administration will stop making electronic copies of people’s concealed gun permits, partially reversing a policy that Republican lawmakers had widely denounced as an invasion of privacy.
The Democratic governor’s decision comes after a month of growing controversy over a new Department of Revenue procedure in which local driver’s license clerks are scanning copies of applicants’ personal documents such as concealed gun permits and birth certificates into a state database as a means of rooting out fraud.
“It has been determined that the scanning and retention of concealed carry certificates are not essential to the integrity of the license issuance process,” Nixon said Tuesday in a written statement.
The Revenue Department said it would delete all previously scanned concealed gun permits from state computers but would continue making electronic copies of other personal documents of applicants’ for driver’s licenses and identification cards.
As Nixon sought to squelch what he frustratingly referred to as “a major kerfuffle,” Republican lawmakers instead ratcheted up their criticism. They raised new concerns about a January email in which an employee of the Missouri Information Analysis Center said a federal fraud investigator had requested a “comprehensive list” of concealed gun permit holders in Missouri. The email described it as a “joint venture” with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The head of Missouri State Highway Patrol acknowledged during testimony before a Senate committee last week that the agency had shared the list with the Social Security Administration. The federal agency says it destroyed the computer disk after being unable to read it. But GOP senators were irate Tuesday that they weren’t told of the planned involvement with the ATF.
“This is like an Orwellian novel on steroids,” said Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington. He added: “The people of the state of Missouri have absolutely been violated by this administration.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer wants officials from the Social Security Administration to testify before his committee. He vowed to press forward with an inquiry into the state’s handling of concealed gun permit data.
“This issue isn’t going to end until we get resolution on how they are protecting the public’s information,” said Schaefer, R-Columbia.
The Missouri Department of Revenue, which oversees the driver’s license bureau, reviews concealed carry permits issued by local sheriffs and then issues the necessary photo identification card or places a concealed weapons endorsement on people’s driver’s licenses.
The agency instituted a new document-scanning procedure in December, much to the surprise of many people showing up to renew their licenses. The changes were made after the federal prosecution of numerous people in a scheme that allowed thousands of people living in the U.S. illegally to obtain Missouri driver’s licenses by showing fraudulent identification documents to a St. Joseph licensing clerk.
The controversy began building in March, when top Republican officials touted a lawsuit challenging the new procedures. In the past few weeks, Republican lawmakers have issued a subpoena to the Revenue Department, convened investigatory hearings and held numerous news conferences denouncing the new procedures. They also have advanced bills that would bar the agency from making electronic copies of concealed gun permits and order it to destroy any existing files in the database.
Republicans have asserted that the database of documents violates privacy rights and alleged that Missouri is taking steps to comply with the federal proof-of-identity law known as Real ID, though Nixon has denied that.
As recently as last week, Revenue Department Director Brian Long told a Senate committee that he was unwilling to commit to halting the scanning of concealed gun documents. Long abruptly resigned Monday, citing the unanticipated personal toll of the job to which he had been appointed in December.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Nixon expressed frustration that Republicans were so focused on the licensing process. He called it “a major kerfuffle” intended by Republicans to “divert the attention of the public” away from what he described as more important public policy matters, such as his call to expand Medicaid health coverage to lower-income adults.
State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, accused Republicans of “buffoonery” and “playing petty politics” for pouncing on Nixon’s administration for its handling of concealed guns information.
Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who promoted the lawsuit against the procedure, described Nixon’s decision to stop scanning concealed weapons permits as “a victory for law-abiding Missourians.”
“However, this change in policy should never have been necessary, and the governor and his appointed officials in the Department of Revenue owe the Missouri people an apology,” Kinder said in a written statement.
Associated Press writer Jordan Shapiro contributed to this report.
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