Revenue Department denies allegations of sharing gun owners info
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Revenue Department denies allegations of sharing gun owners info

Date: March 13, 2013
By: Wes Duplantier
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 787

JEFFERSON CITY - With the gun control debate heating up in Missouri’s state Capitol, the state Department of Revenue found itself under fire this past week from Republicans who say driver's license offices have been gathering data on the state’s gun owners and illegally feeding that information into a federal security database.

The controversy has sparked heated questions from lawmakers, denials from state officials and at least one lawsuit in the southern part of the state — with a judge ruling that the practice must be stopped at a license office there, for the time being.

Republicans lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder have all said that local license offices are installing new equipment that scans information from concealed-carry permits and then transmits that information to a third party company, MorphoTrust USA, which also manages databases for the federal government.

That practice, they all say, is in direct violation of a Missouri state law that makes a person’s concealed-carry status a part of their private personal information. Groups that advocate for fewer restrictions on gun ownership have long voiced their fears about a federal database of guns and gun owners. They say the assembly of such a database could be the first step in a plan to confiscate all legally registered weapons in the country.

Under intense grilling from lawmakers this week, top officials at the Department of Revenue, which oversees the license offices, have denied that the information sharing is happening.

Deputy Director John Mollenkamp told the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday that the information is being sent to MorphoTrust. But he insisted that MorphoTrust merely verifies the information to prevent fraud and then the information is deleted, not shared with the federal government.

But that wasn’t good enough for some Republicans at the hearing. Sen. Kurt Schaefer said he was worried that MorphoTrust might still be keeping on file facial images of concealed-carry permit holders, taken from their driver's licenses.

"So literally you (the department) are creating an Orwellian file on every single file of every Missourian on the biometrics of their face," said Schaefer, R-Columbia.

So far, one person has gone to the courts to put a stop to the potential information-sharing. A man in Stoddard County filed a lawsuit on March 4 asking his local circuit court to order the practice halted at his local license office.

A local circuit judge there ordered the information-sharing to stop on the day the lawsuit was filed. In a separate hearing earlier this week, that judge kept his order in place, saying he wants more information from the plaintiff and from the local license office.

The private attorney representing the plaintiff, Russell Oliver, said his client filed suit because Missouri statute prohibits such information sharing.

"We are a state and a nation of laws,” said Oliver, who is also the Stoddard County prosecuting attorney. “Those laws are supposed to mean something, and are supposed to be followed."

Even though the Department of Revenue has denied that the information is being stored by federal authorities, at least one Republican in the state Capitol has filed legislation on the matter.

Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, is sponsoring a measure that would forbid the Department of Revenue from retaining any electronic copies of gun owners’ personal information.

The bill also forbids the department from using any digital scanning devices capable of making images of personal data, like the data that the department has been sending to MorphoTrust.

The House Government Oversight Committee heard testimony from the public about the bill on Tuesday.

The information-sharing controversy strikes at a particularly sensitive moment in Missouri, where lawmakers from both parties have been pushing gun bills in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Connecticut late last year.

Democrats have pressed the need for greater restrictions on guns to curb violence in the state’s urban areas, while Republicans have vehemently called for measures that reiterate the Second Amendment’s language about the right to bear arms and that aim to protect gun owners from being tracked or monitored.

Several Republican lawmakers have said they are fearful that Congress might pass a gun control law in reaction to the Connecticut shooting that could lead to the banning or confiscation of certain guns nationwide.

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