Ban Limiting Gun Records Upsetting Some; in July, Law Enforcement Agencies Must Get Rid of Some Electronic Weapons Lists

Article excerpt

Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING, Capital Bureau Chief

TALLAHASSEE -- Nearly a quarter of a million electronic records deep inside the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office are about to become a casualty of a new state law, and Sheriff John Rutherford is none too happy about it.

A bill passed by legislators in April and signed by Gov. Jeb Bush in May bars law enforcement agencies from compiling or keeping electronic records of guns or their owners, although paper records are still allowed. In Jacksonville, that means 248,817 records compiled since 1987 are three weeks away from a state destruction deadline.

Rutherford said it is hard not to see the new law as an impediment to his officers.

"I'm the first one to stand up and say I don't want law enforcement to keep records of gun owners," he said. "It's a right to enjoy without being on a list somewhere. But it seems to me they're eliminating a good law enforcement tool."

According to State Attorney's Office records, 70 of Jacksonville's 92 homicides last year involved a gun, and 34 of this year's 51 homicides were tied to a firearm. At the Sheriff's Office, records were compiled in electronic, microfilm and 3-by-5-inch index card versions and listed a gun's serial number, weapon type and description, caliber and registration date. Also listed was the owner's name, race, gender and date of birth.

The law bars government agencies from keeping any permanent, electronic list or record of a privately owned gun or its owner, punishable by civil fines between a minimum of $250,000 and a maximum of $5 million if a court finds the violation was intentional. It also requires the destruction of any existing records by July 13, or 60 days after Bush signed the law.

Most records were compiled from pawnshop records, which shop owners electronically sent to law enforcement agencies. Owners can still keep and submit such records, but agencies can no longer keep them longer than 60 days after a transaction.

The law applies to all types of guns except antique firearms. There is a long list of exceptions, many of which weren't in the bill as originally written by National Rifle Association attorneys but were added at the insistence of law enforcement officials. The law does not apply to guns used in crimes, for example, or to gun owners convicted of violent crimes, or to stolen guns until they are recovered. …