Gun Request

Republican Party of Virginia in Hot Water Over Request for Gun Details

The state party’s request for a list of gun permit holders has angered Tea Party leaders. By Ben Jacobs.

Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty,MLADEN ANTONOV

What does the Republican Party of Virginia have in common with Gawker? More than you think.

Like the New York City–based news and gossip blog, the Old Dominion branch of the GOP is under fire for requesting a list of concealed-carry-gun-permit holders. But while Gawker requested and published a list to out every permit holder in New York City, the Virginia Republicans have done so to only flesh out their voter database ahead of the coming gubernatorial election.

But pro–gun control New York City is no Virginia, where on July 1, after a concerted political effort led by Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain, the names and addresses of Virginians with a concealed-weapons permit will no longer be publicly available. By trying to mine the permit data just before the window closes, the state party is angering an awful lot of Old Dominion conservatives—even though it has gathered such information for years.

In light of recent disclosures about the NSA’s surveillance program, “this is not the time to be jeopardizing people’s privacy,” said Larry Nordvig, executive director of the Richmond Tea Party. Although he noted that he was not speaking for his organization, he called the state GOP’s action “hypocritical.” There are “a lot of Tea Party people that it definitely rubs the wrong way,” he said. “Obenshain’s bill was passed for an important reason, to protect the privacy of gun owners.”

Other Virginia Tea Party leaders echoed Nordvig’s comments. Keith Freeman, chairman of the Hampton Roads Tea Party, said he thought the state party was using “a double standard.” Although the bill to seal the concealed-carry-permit records was bipartisan, it was “championed by Republicans,” he said. Chip Tarbutton, president of the Roanoke Tea Party, was slightly more charitable in his assessment, calling the state GOP’s actions counterproductive and “a little tone deaf.”

Garren Shipley, communications director for the Republican Party of Virginia, defended the state party’s actions. In a statement to The Daily Beast, he said: “Virginia Republicans have a proud history of defending the Second Amendment, and we are working actively to ensure that voters who are concerned about Second Amendment issues stay informed about Democratic efforts to limit our right to keep and bear arms. Routine requests like these ensure that we are able provide information in a timely manner.”

But Obenshain, who sponsored the bill to make concealed-carry-permit records private, is the Republican nominee for attorney general, and his campaign is not a fan of the state party’s request. His spokesman, Paul Logan, made clear that “Senator Obenshain disagrees with [the state party’s] decision” to request a list of concealed-carry-permit holders. In Obenshain’s opinion, “private information of citizens shouldn’t be disclosed simply because they exercise a constitutional right.”

For all the stir the party’s request has caused, it’s unlikely to open a major rift between gun-rights advocates and the Republican establishment. After all, state Republicans have been using the information for years, if not decades. The request is noteworthy not because it’s the state party’s first—but because it’s the last.

Still, Philip VanCleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro–Second Amendment group, said he was comfortable with the state party’s request. It’s not as if the information is being used for a “malicious purpose,” he said—it is just to put names “on a mailing list.” And his group has requested the list of concealed carry permit holders for years. He still supports the law to prevent press outlets from publishing the names and addresses, he said. VanCleave added, however, that his group had tried to find out if there was a way to keep the list available but prevent the press from publishing it. He discovered it wasn’t constitutionally feasible. “I know a lot more about the Second Amendment than about the First,” he acknowledged.