Gun-permit data dump costs city $1.4M

SCREENSHOT: VICTOR FIORILLO This icon appeared on map.
SCREENSHOT: VICTOR FIORILLO This icon appeared on map.
Posted: July 24, 2014

THE CITY has agreed to pay $1.4 million and reform its gun-permit procedures after the Department of Licenses & Inspections posted the names and addresses of thousands of gun owners in 2012.

The information - released as part of Mayor Nutter's open-data initiative - was included on an interactive map on the city's website that featured clickable revolver icons at addresses where people had been denied a license-to-carry permit, or had their permit revoked, and had then appealed to L&I's Review Board.

"There was a gun over the person's home," said Joshua Prince, one of the attorneys who filed the class-action lawsuit and negotiated the $1.4 million settlement on behalf of about 3,300 gun-permit applicants.

In some cases, map users could click on the icons and determine the specific reasons why residents said they wanted a carry permit.

One of the plaintiffs is a Philadelphia pastor who carries large sums of money and had been robbed in the past. His permit application was initially denied - apparently due to a misdemeanor from 40 years ago - then granted after he appealed to L&I.

"It's not that I'm thinking God does not walk with me when I go places," the pastor told the Daily News in 2012. "But anything could happen. We're living in some bad times."

The gun-permit information was online for about three days in August 2012, then removed at the Police Department's request. Police were concerned that it could serve as a road map for criminals.

Chief Deputy City Solicitor Craig Straw said yesterday that the city has not admitted any wrongdoing as part of the court settlement, but he conceded that there was some "miscommunication" within city government about what should be included on the map (phila.gov/map). It also features the locations of polling places, building code violations, lane closures, firehouses and playgrounds.

"We touch a lot of people's lives in a lot of intimate ways," then-L&I spokeswoman Maura Kennedy said in 2012. "We really wanted to give citizens tools."

But under state law, gun-permit information is confidential. The city initially argued that applicants lose their right to confidentiality once they file an appeal with L&I.

"We're in a gray area," Straw said.

As part of the settlement, the city has agreed to several other changes, including dropping the requirement for references on gun-permit applications, implementing "customer service training" for the city's Gun Permit Unit and confiscating firearms or permits only with probable cause that they are evidence of a crime.

"We didn't make any concessions to make it easier to get a gun or a license to carry a firearm," Straw said. "We sort of made sure that the process that we use is consistent with Pennsylvania law."

Prince said the case is an example of city government inadvertently releasing nonpublic information as it strives to make records more accessible online.

"There are certain things that, either statutorily or as a matter of common sense, should be kept confidential," he said.


On Twitter: @wbender99

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