Carthage resident Bob Sonntag is concerned that he may be affected by the latest controversy gripping the state capitol, and he came to the Jasper County Courthouse to hear what state leaders were going to do about it.
Sonntag was among about 50 people who filled the foyer of the historic courthouse to hear from Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones and State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee about the Missouri Department of Revenue sharing a database of names of people who have concealed weapons permits in Missouri with an investigator from the Social Security Administration.
“I object to my name being on any roll that the federal government has,” Sonntag said as he awaited the lawmakers' arrival. “I don't think the federal government has the right or the need to know whether I have a concealed carry permit.”
At issue is new driver's licensing process instituted by the Department of Revenue at the beginning of the year in which clerks make electronic copies of people's personal documents, such as birth certificates and concealed gun permits, to be saved in a state database.
Schaefer told the crowd in Carthage that for weeks the Department had told lawmakers that the information would not be shared with anyone. Then last week, Col. Ron Replogle, with the Missouri State Highway Patrol revealed that the list of 160,000-plus concealed carry permit holders had been given to a fraud investigator with the federal Social Security Administration.
An email a federal agent sent Nov. 17, 2011, to the Highway Patrol said "the purpose for this list is to cross match it to the Social Security Administration database for people who are currently collecting disability for a mental illness." People who have been judged mentally incompetent aren't supposed to be able to get Missouri concealed gun permits.
The Social Security Administration said Monday that its investigators were unable to read either the original encrypted disk or a subsequent electronic spreadsheet provided this January. In both cases, it said the disks were destroyed.
“The issue here is you have this federal agency that went to the Department of Revenue and asked just for the en masse list, the entire list of the 163,000-plus Missourians who have a concealed carry permit so that can be profiled for whatever reason they wanted to use it for,” Schaefer said on Monday. “It shows the dangers of allowing Revenue, someone like the bureaucrats in the Department of Revenue, to implement these procedures without anyone knowing, without following the appropriations process, without promulgating a state rule, which would have at least given the public notice and a chance to comment on it. They didn't do that. So if Revenue didn't do that two years ago when they started down this road, we're going to do that now.”
Page 2 of 2 - House Speaker Jones said he's sent a letter to Attorney General Chris Koster asking him to appoint an investigative commission to “determine the full extent of the scandal.”
“Putting a stop to this is my number one priority,” Jones said. “Kurt and I are both former prosecutors and make no mistake — we will get to the bottom of this. Either we can spend the next five weeks investigating this with various committees or Attorney General Koster can step in and appoint an investigative committee with broader powers to quickly get the answers we need.”
Jones announced at the Carthage news conference that he had received word while on his way to Carthage that Department of Revenue Director Brian Long, who had only been on the job for four months, had resigned on Monday.
Long and other members of the Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's administration had defended the process as a strong safeguard against fraud, despite criticism from Republican lawmakers who denounced it as a potential invasion of privacy. But on Monday, Long submitted his resignation effective immediately, noting he was doing so "with great regret."
"My brief tenure as Director has taken a toll on me and my family that I could not have anticipated when I accepted the position in December 2012," Long wrote in his resignation letter, which the governor's office released upon the request of The Associated Press.
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said Long was neither asked nor encouraged to resign. Long did not immediately return a telephone message left by the Associated Press.
Jones said the House will vote on legislation taking the issuance of concealed carry permits away from the Department of Revenue and allowing county sheriffs to issue the permits directly.
Sheriffs already handle the background checks and the certifications.
Jasper County Sheriff Randee Kaiser, who introduced the two lawmakers at Monday's press conference, said he would be comfortable with that.
“As someone who has been an instructor for conceal and carry for over 10 years, every one of my students that I've taught in those classes, I've made a special point to say that the law specifically says this information is a closed record and cannot be given out to the public,” Kaiser said. “Now as the sheriff and the person responsible for issuing those permits, I find it to be rather disappointing to find out that this information has in fact been given out.”