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Maine governor seeks emergency block on release of gun permit data

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Feb. 12, 2013: In this photo tweeted by Gov. Paul LePage, the Maine governor displays his concealed firearms permit. (AP)

Gov. Paul LePage said Friday he was submitting a bill to temporarily block the release of concealed-firearms permit holders' names, addresses and dates of birth as a furor over a newspaper's public-records request began to ease.

The Republican governor's bill is an emergency act, meaning it would take effect immediately upon passage. Minority Republicans, saying the proposal already has strong GOP support, challenged Democrats to get behind it.

Passage, which requires a two-thirds legislative vote, would keep permit holders' personal information confidential until lawmakers can consider a separate bill to permanently keep those records private.

LePage, who has a concealed-weapons permit, announced his bill hours after the Bangor Daily News dropped its request to state law enforcement agencies for data on all of the state's concealed-weapons permit holders.

"I hope the Legislature will act quickly to pass this bill and put the concerns of law-abiding Mainers at ease," he said.

A day earlier, the newspaper had caused an uproar by requesting names, addresses and ages of all of the state's permit holders.

The News said on its website it told police agencies that received its Freedom of Access request to disregard it, adding that information it had received would be destroyed.

The newspaper, based in a rural area of the state where gun ownership is common, said it was "disappointed" by the strong negative reaction to its request. But the newspaper, which has maintained it never intended to publish any personal information from the records, said its request had been misrepresented and left vulnerable to "political opportunism."

As news of the records request became public Thursday, Republican legislative leaders took the Bangor newspaper to task in a hastily called news conference.

Sen. Gary Plummer, R-Windham, said the newspaper's request was "particularly short-sighted following the national outrage that resulted from a New York newspaper publishing the names of concealed-weapons permit holders in that state" following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six educators dead.

The New York newspaper's action prompted the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine to recommend legislation in Maine to ensure the confidentiality of names, addresses and other personal information about concealed-weapons permit holders.

After the Bangor newspaper's change of course, the 10,000-member organization of hunters, anglers and other outdoor sporting enthusiasts thanked the newspaper "for coming to its senses and doing the right thing," Alliance executive director David Trahan said.

The newspaper's action "makes it difficult for any other entities to go after this list until after the Legislature has spoken," he said.

State police said they had received an anonymous request for concealed-weapons data. The state Freedom of Access law requires neither a name nor a reason behind a request for information, and police spokesman Steve McCausland said the request was being reviewed.

Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau, of Winterport, said his party was working with Democrats to move forward quickly with the governor's proposed freeze on the release of permit data.

Maine GOP Chairman Rich Cebra called on residents of all political parties to contact their legislators to support LePage's emergency legislation.