Public Defender's (UNEDITED) Letter to Register Editor Westerhold
UPDATE: Mr. Longo has sent Buckeye Firearms Association the complete text of his letter, which includes information EDITED out by the Sandusky Register, with the excuse that the letter was too long. Apparently the newspaper has enough space to publish the names of approximately 2,700 law-abiding citizens' private, confidential (and in some cases erroneous information, but not an extra 130 words from yet another upset reader.
July 17, 2007
Public Trust Broken
Chief Assistant Public Defender, Huron County
In his Column June 27, Matt Westerhold claims that the Register "never
sought" the battle in which it is embroiled. If that were true, you had
an alternative: not to publish the names of concealed carry permit
holders who hadn't done anything wrong. I'm not suggesting that you
didn't have the right to acquire the names, but publishing them is
another matter. This was specifically forbidden by the same law that gave you access to the names in the first place, and you may indeed be both civilly and criminally liable for your decision.
journalists access to the names for a reason, not to publish the entire
list, but to monitor the sheriffs and report on any irregularities in
issuing the permits. If you found someone with a criminal record or a
history of mental instability on the list, you should report it, and
perhaps include the individual's name. However, to publish the names of
all the permit holders without their consent was reprehensible. Clearly,
the legislature screwed up; they trusted the press.
Click 'Read More' for the entire letter to Sandusky Register Editor Matt Westerhold.
The Register has also betrayed a public trust. The legislature granted journalists access to the names for a reason, not to publish the entire list, but to monitor the sheriffs and report on any irregularities in issuing the permits. If you found someone with a criminal record or a history of mental instability on the list, you should report it, and perhaps include the individual's name. However, to publish the names of all the permit holders without their consent was reprehensible. Clearly, the legislature screwed up; they trusted the press.
I don't buy Mr. Westerhold's argument that the Register is merely
fighting government secrecy. Most Americans are not in favor of secrecy
laws, which exist only to shield the government, but they are
overwhelmingly in favor of confidentiality laws, which protect the
privacy of the individual citizen. Surely, no one in Mr. Westerhold's
position could fail to make that distinction. His argument doesn't hold
water, and stretches his credibility to the breaking point. Do me a favor: don't pee on my foot and tell me it's raining.
Mr. Westerhold's most incredible claim was that the list was published
as a "public service." His only explanation was that a lot of people
wanted to see the list, as evidenced by the number who accessed it. So
what? The relevant question wasn't whether people wanted the
information, but whether they needed it, and the obvious answer is no.
Permit holders are about as likely to commit a crime as they are to be
hit by lightning, so the public needn't know who they are.
Publishing the list was actually a great disservice. If only one-tenth
of one percent of those who viewed it were looking for information to
help them steal a gun, and they act on it, you'll be aiding and abetting
five felons. Furthermore, since stolen guns are often used to commit new
crimes, you may facilitate an armed robbery or a murder. Far fetched?
Nope. Many permit holders own more than one firearm, but most don't
carry more than one, so it would be logical for burglars to look for
guns in a permit holder's home when he's out. Please don't fall back on
"we didn't publish addresses." Once a crook has the names, he can get
most of the addresses out of the phone book. An "outed" permit holder
may be a little bit safer on the street, but how safe are his home and
his children? You have handed the bad guys 2700 potential targets...and
you wonder why your readers are upset? If just ONE innocent person is
victimized, it'll be one more than was necessary.
Having violated the privacy rights of so many gun owners, Mr. Westerhold
shouldn't expect the NRA to "back off" in the near future. By the way,
please don't portray the NRA as some sort of evil, faceless giant, or as
merely the political arm of the firearms industry, because it is
neither. The NRA is people; it is made up of law-abiding Americans from
every walk of life, who stand together to protect their Second Amendment
rights. Because those rights are often under attack, the NRA tends to be
zealous. If you didn't see this coming, Mr. Westerhold, you should have.
If I were the Erie County Prosecutor, I would consider indicting Mr. Westerhold. If guns get stolen from a permit holder in the near future, and someone gets hurt, he may have to. Of course, if Mr. Westerhold is ever charged, he'll wrap himself in the First Amendment, just like the Bush Administration wrapping itself in the Flag. I believe in the First Amendment, but unlike most journalists, I realize that it doesn't supercede the rest of the Bill of Rights or justify irresponsibility.
The longer that list remains on your Web site, the greater the
likelihood that a crook will use it. Do the right thing, Mr. Westerhold;
take it down...now. Better yet, since the damage may alreay be done,
perhaps you should take it down...and resign.
Please consider making a donation to Buckeye Firearms Association NOW to help us STOP
this inexcusable attack on your rights. We need your help in this battle as we prepare to implement our next steps.
Sandusky Register Editor Matt Westerhold Declares War on Gun Owner Privacy