OUR OPINION: Public officials should comply with the law

By NEMS Daily Journal

It was not surprising, though still troubling, to learn that aides to Gov. Phil Bryant advised the Department of Public Safety to stall a lawful public records request made by a Daily Journal reporter.
The Associated Press obtained emails among members of the governor’s staff and DPS discussing ways to avoid complying with the law regarding concealed-carry and enhanced-carry gun permit records. While the governor’s legal counsel, Jack Wilson, wrote that state law “currently makes it clear they are subject to the public records act,” the email exchange discussed ways to stall long enough to give the Legislature time to change the law and close the records from public view.
While this may have been a popular political stand, it’s not the kind of behavior we should expect from the governor’s office and a state law enforcement agency. They should be in the business of seeing that laws are carried out, not skirted.
That Bryant’s office was involved became fairly obvious earlier this month at a legislative hearing in which a Department of Public Safety representative acknowledged the department had deliberately delayed the Journal’s request. At the same meeting, the Senate sponsor of a bill to close the records said he’d sped up the bill in response. The AP’s securing of the records just confirmed that involvement. These officials all wanted to avoid complying with the law until the law could be changed, and they wanted to get it changed as fast as they could.
The Daily Journal had no intention of publishing the names of any permit holders, and we have said so repeatedly. Our reporter made what was a routine public records request to assist in his coverage of gun issues and trends in our area, just as a Journal reporter had done in 2006 and met no resistance.
But regardless of the nature of the records, it’s the precedent that is troubling. If the governor’s office and the Department of Public Safety are selective in adhering to the law in this case, what’s to keep them from being lax in another? The law is the law, and public officials do not have the authority to avoid complying with a law simply because they don’t like it, or it’s the politically popular thing to do, or the law might change.