LANSING – The House moved to broaden gun owners' rights Thursday by voting to reaffirm the confidential status of gun records, clarify the definition of "brandishing" a gun and lift a ban on short-barreled rifles.
A Republican package of bills passed by a wide margin, with 81-28 being the closest vote. The bills would codify a 1999 Michigan Supreme Court decision that found the disclosure of gun registry records to be "a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual's privacy."
The legislation would amend the Michigan Handgun Act to exempt all firearms records, including previously protected concealed-carry permit records, from Freedom of Information Act requests. The information would still be available to law enforcement officials for certain purposes. The package now goes to the Senate.
Bill sponsor Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, said people practicing their constitutional right to gun ownership shouldn't have to "lose a semblance of privacy." Lawmakers introduced the legislation after a New York newspaper published the names and addresses of gun owners in two counties in December 2012, following the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Nesbitt said.
National Rifle Association spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said gun owners' information should be confidential because "law-abiding permit holders" should be protected from "unscrupulous media organizations" that print their personal information.
Jane Briggs-Bunting, a retired journalism professor and the president of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government, said the legislation shows lawmakers are "chipping away bit by bit" at information that "used to be routinely available to the public." She said the trend threatens a "free, vibrant democracy."
"The FOIA is about keeping a watchdog eye on government," she said. "Well, what happens if the government starts fooling around with gun registrations? No one would know about it because there's no public information available."
A separate bipartisan package that passed in the House seeks to clarify a law that prohibits the "brandishing" of a gun in public. The bills would define "brandish" to mean to "point, wave about or display in a threatening manner with the intent to induce fear in another person." The new definition would authorize a person to openly carry a gun in a holster or sling.
Certain short-barreled shotguns and rifles also would become legal under a Senate bill that will soon go to Gov. Rick Snyder. Owners of those shotguns would need to meet federal requirements under the legislation, which passed 103-6.