Published: Monday, May 9, 2016 at 2:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 9, 2016 at 2:48 p.m.
Florida statutes clearly prohibit any state agency, department or bureaucrat from creating a list of gun owners.“A list, record, or registry of legally owned firearms or law-abiding firearm owners is not a law enforcement tool and can become an instrument for profiling, harassing, or abusing law-abiding citizens based on their choice to own a firearm and exercise their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed under the United States Constitution,” the statute reads. “Further, such a list, record, or registry has the potential to fall into the wrong hands and become a shopping list for thieves.”Lawmakers felt so strongly about protecting the privacy of gun owners that they gave the statute teeth: Anyone who creates a “gun registry” is guilty of a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. The agency involved can be subject to fine of up to $5 million, and any official involved must pay for their own defense. The state attorney’s office in the jurisdiction where the offense occurred is tasked by statute to prosecute violators.
But a waiver form that had been in use at gun ranges operated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission came awfully close to creating a gun registry. In fact, after some rather pointed questions, the commission’s executive director told me Monday that the agency will stop requiring the form.
The waiver, which range patrons had to complete to be allowed access to any of the commission’s public shooting ranges, asked for the patron’s name, address, phone number, email address, driver’s license number and primary interest: pistol, rifle, shotgun or archery.
By signing the waiver form, patrons agreed that neither they nor their heirs would sue FWC or their employees and volunteers “for any reason, including FWC’s negligence.”
Ian McGuire is a gun owner and a self-described “constitutional activist.”
McGuire, 26, is a certified nursing assistant for the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
“I take care of our state’s veterans,” he told me last week.
When he learned that the FWC gun range that he frequents — the Cecil M. Webb Shooting Range in Punta Gorda — began requiring waivers in February, McGuire started protesting at the range every Tuesday, armed with his cell phone camera.
He demanded to know why the waivers were being used, and he took video of several uncomfortable encounters with the range staff, during which he peppered them with questions.
“I knew these forms would be public records, and therefore a gun registry,” he said. “I did it to bring public awareness that these are not private records. I’ve seen range officers lie and tell patrons that these are private documents. They’re clearly not.”
To prove his point, McGuire filed a plethora of public records requests, which got him access to completed waivers. He took videos of the patrons’ personal information and posted the results on his YouTube account.
“Once I see that the waivers are no longer required, and that the range is no longer un-free, I will pull the videos off of YouTube,” he promised.
Hollie Kimsey, the commission’s records management liaison officer, said in an email there were 12,903 waivers just at the Cecil M. Webb range.
I spoke to FWC’s executive director Nick Wiley on Monday.
Whenever a problem gets to his level, Wiley almost always does the right thing.
Unfortunately, it seems that lately there are too many problems that need to get to his level before they’re resolved.
Wiley is not your typical government apparatchik.
He’s a shooter. He respects the privacy of other shooters, and he’s definitely pro-freedom.
Effective Monday, he told me he killed the waiver forms “because of concerns we’ve heard from the public.”
“We looked at it and determined we can scale back the waiver that required all the information about home address, email — we don’t need that,” he said. “We have a form already that we could use, and should be using, that only requires someone to print and sign their name. That’s all the information we need.”
Wiley said minors will still be required to provide more information, but added that “their info is shielded from public records.”
“It’s unfortunate we didn’t hear the concerns from the public, and we should have anticipated better, but we didn’t,” he said. “Now we’re going to fix it. I’m glad people brought it to our attention. I’m glad we had a chance to look at it, and I’m glad our staff found a way to fix it.”
Sarasota attorney Jeff Young, a former prosecutor who is experienced in litigation involving firearms and Second Amendment rights, said Wiley’s move was the “right decision.”
“The decision to not go forward with the waiver was smart,” Young said said. “I do believe it had the potential to violate the statute by creating a gun registry.”
— If we don’t run into each other at the range, you can reach me at (941) 284-8553, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail, 1741 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You also can follow me on social media at facebook.com/TheGunWriter or Twitter.com/ht_gunwriter or watch us on our new YouTube Channel.