There’s some strangeness afoot down in Missouri over concealed carry permit records, and it’s pitting local and state-level politicians against the FBI.
The feds say their request to audit the computers where CCW records are kept is to ensure compliance with federal regulations, while the state says the feds are trying to get at residents’ carry permit details for no good reason. Meanwhile, local law enforcement is reportedly pushing back en masse, refusing the FBI requests.
Missouri Attorney General Eric S. Schmitt has publicly vowed to use the full power of his office to stop what he calls the FBI’s “illegal” attempt to obtain Conceal Carry Weapon (CCW) holder’s private information.
“The FBI has absolutely no business poking around in the private information of those who have obtained a concealed carry permit in Missouri,” Schmitt said in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray dated July 13. “The Second Amendment rights of Missourians will absolutely not be infringed on my watch. I will use the full power of my Office to stop the FBI, which has become relentlessly politicized and has virtually no credibility, from illegally prying around in the personal information of Missouri gun owners.”
In early July, the FBI notified several county sheriff’s offices in Missouri, informing them of planned visits in August to conduct multiple routine audits of their computer database systems, including CCW permit holder records. This caused many county sheriffs to question the audit since, according to state law, that information is only accessible by the sheriffs themselves.
While these audits don’t target the state’s CCW records specifically, CCW permit information is part of the database where the technology review is to be done. According to the FBI, the review ensures no local law enforcement offices are misusing the information.
So far, state officials have told the federal agency to pound sand and have refused to allow access to the databases and permit holder information. At the same time, the FBI claims that a similar series of audits were performed in 2018 without contention.
How It Came to Such a Stalemate
Considering Missouri and the nation are in the midst of an election year, it’s entirely possible politicians are making hay out of what is, indeed, a routine audit. However, inconsistencies and conflicting statements have raised legitimate red flags for some.
State officials say they are simply abiding by Missouri state law 571.101.9(2), which says, “Information retained in the concealed carry permit system under this subsection shall not be distributed to any federal, state, or private entities and shall only be made available for a single entry query of an individual in the event the individual is a subject of interest in an active criminal investigation or is arrested for a crime.”
This law was passed in 2014 after federal agents wanted to know which residents in the state own firearms.
Simply put, only the county sheriffs have access to CCW information.
“Let me be perfectly clear. Allowing federal agents from the FBI to have access to records of Missourians who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon violates Missouri law and infringes on our Second Amendment rights. Missouri law specifically prohibits sharing this confidential list with the federal government,” Schmitt added in his letter to Wray.
Schmitt’s letter expresses his distrust in what he calls the “out of touch” agency’s current leadership and lists multiple reasons for that distrust. It should be noted that Schmitt is currently running for a US Senate seat; however, he has a record of being a public Second Amendment supporter throughout his political career.
“In light of all these facts, Missourians have concluded that the FBI leadership in Washington, DC, has been weaponized for political gain,” Schmitt wrote. “You have lost our trust, and you seem to be completely indifferent toward trying to rebuild it. Instead, you announce that you will show up at the offices of our elected Missouri sheriffs in open and blatant violation of our state law and seek to find out who in Missouri holds a legal CCW permit. This is not going to happen.”
“I will fight you tooth and nail with all of the resources that the people of Missouri have given me as their Attorney General,” he added.
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley sent a similar letter to the head of the FBI. Wray was appointed as FBI director in 2017 by President Donald Trump.
The agency responded with a statement on Twitter, saying that its audit in Missouri is routine.
“At no point would auditors require access to lists such as state-approved concealed carry holders, nor would the CJIS Division retain information beyond what is necessary to address a specific compliance concern. Missouri has been through this routine audit multiple times, most recently in 2018,” the FBI statement said.
Sen. Hawley vs. FBI Director Wray, Live
In a recent televised hearing, Wray told Hawley these audits don’t involve any agents on the ground, per se. Rather, the audits would be monitored by a board of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers from around the country who would sample the system’s transactions and inspect them for compliance with federal regulations.
Wray stated that the audits are done every three years or so and are typically uneventful. However, Hawley said that in 2018, CCW records were not officially requested during that audit.
Wray was admittedly unsure but replied by saying if CCW information is included in the audit, it is likely because of the background check system used by the sheriffs’ offices.
Hawley emphasized the importance of keeping his fellow Missourians’ personal information confidential in light of recent events like the recent leak of California CCW holders’ names and addresses.
During the exchange, Hawley told Wray, “I want to know what in the world you are doing with this information. Frankly, I don’t like the fact that the FBI is snooping around the concealed carry permit records of Missourians. I don’t know what you want to do with it, I don’t know what you’re going to do with the information, but I don’t like that you are putting our sheriffs in this position.”
Not all sheriffs’ departments were contacted about the audit, and some, like Buchanan County Sheriff Bill Puett said, “We’re audited on a variety of criminal history records, but I have never seen anything on concealed carry permits.”
In 2018, the Laclede County Sheriff’s Office was asked for CCW information during a similar audit and politely declined. Sheriff David Millsap said that he has not been contacted since about the issue. He also made it clear that the answer would still be the same: No.
As of Aug. 19, 2022, Jared Yanis of the Guns & Gadgets Youtube channel stated in a recent video that 24 sheriffs departments in Missouri had been visited so far this month. In the video, Sheriff Tony Wheatley of Moniteau County is quoted as saying that to his knowledge, none of the CCW records have been accessed by the FBI due to sheriffs standing their ground.
At this time, it is still unclear if the CCW information was the target of these audits.