What is the harm in publishing lists of concealed handgun license holders?
By Ken Hanson
By publishing lists of persons who have obtained concealed handgun licenses, newspapers such as the Sandusky Register have taken private, non-public record information and made it public. Specifically, because of their actions, the general public may now know who owns and may or may not carry a gun. Additionally, the general public now knows who is not carrying a gun in their day to day activities.
Beyond the fact that The Register has now made public that which statutorily was not to be public, what harm can come from this? Buckeye Firearms Association previously brought you the story of a prison guard who was tracked down by a former inmate by using a concealed carry license list published in the local paper. However, beyond this explicit example, the general public remains largely unaware of just how much harm can come from this.
So, as a service to our readers, we have prepared an example by using Sandusky Register Editor Matt H. Westerhold. We have selected him simply because the paper has pointed to him as the one “responsible” for the decision to publish the lists. However, it would have been just as easy, and valid, to do it with Register publisher Doug Phares or Register owner David Rau (or, for that matter, decision-makers at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, NBC24 Toledo, the Lorain Morning Journal, the Sidney Daily News, the Toledo City Paper, the Troy Daily News and the Warren Tribune-Chronicle, who have also irresponsibly acted to release this private information on at least one occasion in the past).
IT IS CRITICAL THAT THE READER UNDERSTAND THAT THE FOLLOWING EXAMPLE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PUBLIC RECORDS LAWS. It is clear that the information we gathered is public record, and concealed carry law has nothing to do with this. We readily concede that all of the information we used is available now, and anyone can find this type of information on a neighbor with very little effort. The difference is that the bad guy would have no reason to target person X instead of person Y for this type of scrutiny. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS EXAMPLE IS THAT THE SANDUSKY REGISTER HAS IDENTIFIED A LIST OF VICTIMS FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS AN INTEREST IN GUN OWNERS OR CONCEALED CARRY LICENSEES. OTHERWISE, THE BAD GUY HAS NO REASON TO TARGET PERSON X OVER PERSON Y.
So the first step for a bad guy is that a person is brought to their attention as a victim by having their name published in the paper. For the concealed handgun license holders, there would be no alternative method to identify them as a target. Now, someone who has a grudge has a list of targets/victims, and the ONLY reason they have a list of targets/victims is because of the newspaper’s unilateral action. But for the Register’s actions, there is no ability to specifically target a licensee. For us, we will pretend Mr. Westerhold was on this list and thus a bad guy is now targeting him.
Now that the target has been identified, (again, keep in mind the only reason the person is identified as a target is the paper has identified the person as a gun owner/someone who carries a concealed handgun) we turn to the wonders of public records and the Internet.
It is very easy to determine that Mr. Westerhold has gone to pretty significant steps to insure that his own personal information is not public. In fact, having his name and county of residence (such as was published on the Sandusky Register's list of CHL-holders) would have saved us significant work. Running general searches will not yield a home address or phone number for him.
We do learn that he owns 322 Deepwood Lane in Amherst, Ohio. However, a quick search reveals that Mesh*** Elsw*** has the phone service there, and she claims to be a renter of Mr. Westerhold and states that Matt does not live there. Turning to the County Recorder, we see that Mr. Westerhold’s mortgage with Union National is a residential mortgage, not a commercial/rental property mortgage. If we were vindictive, we could contact the bank and let them know that Mr. Westerhold is now allegedly renting the property out to a renter, since that is potentially a default under the residential mortgage allowing the bank to foreclose the mortgage.
We also easily learn that Mr. Westerhold was cited into Oberlin Municipal Court for failure to wear a seatbelt and given a warning for speeding. We see he drives a 2003 Blue Chevy Tracker license plate DA*3816. A bad guy now has a car to look for around the Register’s parking lot if he wants to find him.
The real goldmine for the person who intends to cause harm to Mr. Westerhold is his Dissolution. With little effort we find his date of birth is 11/**/1958 and his Social Security number is 2**-56-6***. We also see his prior employment history and yearly salary. Having his full name, date of birth, social security number, prior employer, prior salary and current employer and a guess at his salary, combined with knowing from the Dissolution that he has/had an Auto Loan with XYZ bank and knowing his current mortgage amount and details, it would be child’s play for a bad guy to open up credit accounts and commit various other acts of identity theft against him.
More seriously, for the hardcore bad guy, these public records (per the Dissolution settlement) show that Matt has a pre-teen child who resides with his ex-wife. Reviewing the child support worksheet and the financial affidavits, we see that no tuition or school payments are listed, so it is a relatively high percentage bet that the child is a public school student. We see from the worksheet that mom has custody, so the child almost certainly is the residential parent for school purposes. From further public records, we see the marriage license from Mr. Westerhold’s ex-wife a year after the dissolution, and we already knew her date of birth, social security number and recent employer from the Dissolution. With very little effort we find ex-wife’s residence and now are relatively sure of which public school his pre-teen child goes to simply by checking the auditor’s maps for this residence for school districts. A check of the school website will show us the bus schedule for that particular school and that street or address, so we will almost certainly, with little effort, know which bus the child rides and what time it picks up/drops off. Further, most public libraries keep copies of the local school yearbooks in the reference section. Even if that is not the case, it is going to be fairly easy to get the yearbook and probably get a picture of the child for identification purposes.
Chilling, isn’t it?
How many individuals were listed in the Sandusky Register simply because they also have minor children and wished to exercise a constitutionally protected right to help ensure their children's safety? Apparently, Editor Matt Westerhold never gave it a thought.
Again, any person can do this type of stalking/abuse against any other person right now. Ohio's concealed carry law has nothing to do with these types of records being public. The point is, why would someone do this and how would they choose their victim? The bad guy has to be given motivation and has to have a reason to target a particular person for this type research/abuse. The bad guy is not going to randomly draw names out of the phone book and do this - there is no motive.
Identifying the victims provides the missing piece of the puzzle. Whether the person hates gun owners, wants to steal a gun or wants to verify that a store he is going to rob does not have concealed handgun licensees working there, the Sandusky Register has performed this service for the bad guy.
This is the true “public service” that the Register is providing its readers. The information they gathered has never been used in news reporting. You do not see their crime coverage saying “Johnny Crackhead stuck up a liquor store. He did not have a concealed handgun license.” Newspapers like The Register use the lists as an ends, not a means. They publish the lists with no intent of the list being used for anything other than harm to the gun owner. Whether the licensee gets fired, gets evicted or gets targeted for crime is not material to The Register.
THE ONLY USE FOR THESE LISTS IS TO TARGET AND VICTIMIZE GUN OWNERS, AND THE SANDUSKY REGISTER KNOWS THIS.
Creating victims - that is the public service the Sandusky Register is providing to their readers.
Attorney Ken Hanson is Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Chair and author of The Ohio Guide to Firearm Laws.
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Sandusky Register Editor Matt Westerhold Declares War on Gun Owner Privacy