The Missouri Highway Patrol twice provided a list of 163,000 Missouri residents with concealed-gun permits to a federal investigator looking into Social Security fraud.
Yet the Highway Patrol’s chief told a Senate committee on Thursday the names never were read because of a technical glitch.
Still, the incident has caused an uproar in the state Capitol and among gun-rights and privacy advocates across the state.
Highway Patrol Col. Ron Replogle said he wasn't aware at the time that his agency had obtained and shared Missouri's entire database of concealed-gun holders, and he told senators in retrospect that he wouldn't have done so.
His acknowledgments — and the assertion that the data never ultimately were used by federal authorities — did little to pacify Republican lawmakers. They’ve issued subpoenas, called news conferences, convened investigatory hearings and passed legislation in opposition to a state database of personal information about driver's license applicants.
For many GOP lawmakers, Replogle's revelation provided an I-told-you-so moment that the privacy rights of Missouri residents have been infringed.
Several Republican lawmakers asserted Thursday that state officials violated a Missouri law making it a misdemeanor crime to disclose information about concealed-gun permit holders, although members of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's administration insisted the information was appropriately shared among law enforcement agencies.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer suggested that some state officials should be fired as a result.
“Concealed-carry information is, in fact, being shared with the federal government,” said Schaefer, a Columbia Republican whose committee has been holding hearings on the topic.
Republican outrage also erupted in the Missouri House.
It’s “just absolutely mind-blowing that a Missouri department … would stab the citizens in the back like this and provide this information to the federal government when it is clearly a violation of Missouri law,” said Rep. Nick Marshall, a Republican lawyer from the Kansas City area.
Republican U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer said Thursday he wrote to the Social Security Administration and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano demanding to know whether federal agencies requested a complete list of Missourians with concealed-gun permits and whether they sought other information. Luetkemeyer also asked how information is to be used and whether data have been shared.
State lawmakers began raising concerns after the state Department of Revenue, which administers driver's licenses, recently started making electronic copies of applicants' personal documents such as concealed-carry permits and birth certificates to be kept in a state database. Licensing officials say the intent is to catch fraud. They note that a clerk at a St. Joseph office pleaded guilty in December in a scheme that used false personal documents to issue licenses to more than 3,500 people living in the United States illegally.
The documents being scanned under new state procedures were not provided to the federal government. Instead, the federal investigator received an electronic list of concealed-carry permit holders that the Department of Revenue compiled as part of its duties of placing concealed-carry endorsements on driver's licenses.
Replogle said a St. Louis-based investigator in the inspector general's office of the Social Security Administration contacted the Highway Patrol in November 2011 seeking a list of Missouri's concealed-gun permit holders for a probe into whether people were fraudulently claiming mental illnesses to get disability benefits. People with mental illnesses are not supposed to be issued concealed-gun permits, so their inclusion on the state's list could indicate they either weren't mentally ill or shouldn't have concealed guns, Replogle said.
He said the Highway Patrol obtained the concealed-gun permit list and provided it on a disc, but the federal investigator was unable to read it and so destroyed it. This January, the same investigator made the same request, and the Highway Patrol again obtained and shared a computer disc containing information about 163,247 people with concealed-gun permits. But Replogle said the federal investigator again was unable to read the data and again destroyed the disc.
Replogle said he learned of the data sharing about a month ago. Had he been consulted first, Replogle said, he would have provided information only on specific people that the Social Security Administration was investigating, not the entire list.
Andrea Spillars, the deputy director of the state Department of Public Safety, defended the release of the list as appropriate under state and federal laws that allow personal information obtained by the state motor vehicle bureau to be shared with other government agencies. But Schaefer suggested the release of the full database didn't fall under an acceptable law enforcement function.
“I believe that it crosses the line between law enforcement activity to profiling through intelligence gathering by batch data,” he said.
The House on Thursday passed legislation intended to stop the Department of Revenue from making electronic copies of concealed-gun permit documents. The bill also would require the department to destroy those documents that already have been collected.