By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Arkansas on Friday became the latest state to exempt from public disclosure the names and zip codes of gun owners, those with permits to carry concealed weapons and applicants for gun permits.
The measure, signed into law by the state's lieutenant governor, came in response to a New York newspaper's decision late last year to publish the names and addresses of thousands of gun permit holders on its website after 26 people were killed in a shooting rampage at an elementary school in Connecticut.
In a rare maneuver allowed under Arkansas law, Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr, a Republican, signed the bill into law while Democratic Governor Mike Beebe was attending a National Governors Association meeting in Washington.
Voters elect the governor and lieutenant governor separately in Arkansas and state law empowers the lieutenant governor to take such an action if the governor is out of state.
"The governor does not condone the signing," spokesman Matt DeCample said. "However, with the unique circumstances surrounding this bill, we do not plan to raise any objections."
Beebe had opposed the bill, but said this week he would allow it to take effect without his signature on Monday.
Darr said that public release of the records threatened the safety and property of permit holders.
"Having been an outspoken advocate for Second Amendment rights, I felt passionately that there should be no delays in signing this bill into law," Darr said in a statement.
The power to act in the governor's absence was used notably in 1993 when the state Senate president pro tem pardoned two convicts and granted clemency to two others. The governor was attending Bill Clinton's presidential inauguration and the lieutenant governor's post was vacant, pending a special election.
About 130,000 Arkansas residents have concealed weapons licenses and the law immediately made their records and those of people applying for licenses private.
The Arkansas Press Association and other media groups opposed the new state law.
The Journal News, which serves suburbs north of New York City in Westchester and Rockland counties, pulled the gun permit information from its website in January after New York approved restrictions similar to Arkansas' along with expanded gun-control measures.
Kansas, Oregon, South Carolina and Kentucky also have similar laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Nicholas Stehle, a board member at the Arkansas Carry gun rights advocacy group that supported the measure, praised Darr's signing of the bill.
"People who are doing nothing more than exercising their constitutional rights shouldn't have to worry about their personal information being accessed or appearing on a list visible to everyone, including people who might mean them harm," Stehle said.
(Editing by David Bailey; Editing by Peter Cooney)