Class-action lawsuit looming against city in gun-owner Web snafu

Included in the personal information about gun owners published online by the city was that of this minister, who carries a concealed Ruger .380 caliber pistol for protection.
Included in the personal information about gun owners published online by the city was that of this minister, who carries a concealed Ruger .380 caliber pistol for protection. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: November 09, 2012

PHILADELPHIA could be facing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of gun owners who say the city violated their privacy by publishing their personal information and launching an interactive Web map that included clickable icons of revolvers over their homes.

Attorney Joshua Prince filed a motion this week in Common Pleas Court, requesting that the suit be sealed to avoid revealing the names of his five clients - and potentially hundreds of others if the case is granted class-action status.

In August, the city's Department of Licenses and Inspections introduced a revamped website, featuring a map that allowed users to view the names and addresses of some gun owners in the city, and the specific reasons why they wanted a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Police quickly asked L&I to remove the information, saying it could jeopardize the safety of the gun owners, including a city pastor who said he routinely carries large sums of money and had been robbed before.

"It shouldn't have been there for some obvious reasons," Lt. Ray Evers, a police spokesman, told the Daily News last month. "It slipped out and it shouldn't have."

The information pertained to people who'd been denied a gun permit or had their existing permit revoked, and had appealed to L&I's Review Board. People who obtained gun permits without appealing to L&I were not on the map, which also included information about building permits, polling places, parks and code violations.

"I don't know what was in their minds when they did this," Prince said of the city officials who published the gun-permit information. "It has an extremely chilling effect on people who would apply for a license to carry or appeal denials."

Under the state's Uniform Firearms Act, information submitted as part of the gun-permit process is confidential. The application itself states that "all information supplied" is "not subject to public disclosure."

Mayor Nutter's spokesman, Mark McDonald, has previously said that the information that L&I published is, in fact, public record because applicants waive their right to confidentiality when they appeal a permit denial or revocation. McDonald declined to comment Thursday due to the pending lawsuit.

"I'd ask where in the law it states that," Prince said.

Prince said a paralegal was sent to L&I in September to test McDonald's assertion that the information is obtainable in person. Her request was denied, and she was told by a woman at the counter that "appeal information is confidential," according to the suit.


Contact William Bender at benderw@phillynews.com or 215-854-5255. Follow him on Twitter @wbender99.

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