Last fall, after a deranged employee went on a rampage and killed six people at Accent Signage in Minneapolis, the police said they were prohibited by law from saying whether the now-dead gunman, Andrew Engeldinger, a had permit to carry a loaded weapon in public.

Under the state Data Practices Act, which governs what is and what is not public data in Minnesota, "All data pertaining to the purchase or transfer of firearms and applications for permits to carry firearms ... are private."

"That's very comprehensive and cold in terms of public access to data," said Mark Anfinson, an attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association who specializes in public record laws.

That provision would likely extend to all people who have been issued permits and gone on to commit crimes. A 2011 BCA report says since 2003 there were 1,159 crimes reported by permit holders, including 114 where a gun was used to further the crime (see page 254 of the pdf). But again, the names of those people are likely protected by the data practices act.

Anfinson said the genesis of the law, which has been in place since at least 1981, was likely to protect permit holders from people who could look up their information and steal their firearms. But because the wording "all data" is so broad, Anfinson said it applies even to criminals who have had their permits revoked, or even to the deceased.

There are some ways data on permit holders who have committed crimes can be made public: if it's revealed either in a court record, for example, or in a law enforcement investigation that's been made inactive.

And then there's a provision in the Data Practices Act (Subd. 15) that allows any law enforcement agency to release any criminal investigative data classified as confidential if the agency deems that it would be in the "public interest" to do so. Which may explain why the Oakdale police chief at least hinted that Nhan Tran, who is accused of randomly shooting and killing 9-year-old Devin Aryal Monday night, had a permit to carry a gun (though he wouldn't outright say it).

"We are comfortable that Tran was not in possession unlawfully," Chief Bill Sullivan said.

Do you think it's in the public's interest to know if criminals have been issued a permit to purchase or carry? 

Update, 4:15 p.m.:To clarify, law enforcement can't report all of the gun permit information on criminals, even if they feel that doing so would be in the public's interest.

The part of the law that allows law enforcement to disclose non-public information only applies to criminal investigative data, notes Toni Beitz, a senior assistant attorney with Hennepin County. So in other words, if police find out through a criminal investigation that a suspected criminal is a permit holder and they want to release that information, they can, Beitz said.

However, if they find out that information after a conviction, then they cannot give that information to the public, no matter how much they feel it would be in the public's interest.


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