Attny. Gen. Dann - Conceal Carry Names Limited to Reporters' ''Mental Processes'

November 13, 2007
Hannah Report

The Strickland administration and the AG's office have gone on record in response to new questions over media access to names of conceal carry permit holders. Little more than a month after relevant provisions of 126-HB9 (Oelslager) went into effect, Attorney General Marc Dann issued an opinion Tuesday clarifying that journalists cannot photo-copy, photograph, dictate, or otherwise jot down the permit holders' personal information.

Even before the ink was dry on the new law, legislators were already debating the meaning of "copy" in R.C. 2923.129(B)(2)(a). Some on both sides of the aisle said the prohibition covers handwritten notes on permit holders, whereas others said a reasonable view of the restriction and the journalist's reporting duties means a member of the media cannot be prohibited from using his own pen.

Since then, a series of Ohio newspaper stories and editorials have tested the meaning of "copy." Several media outlets have printed long lists of conceal carry names, raising the ire of those who feel such information should remain confidential to protect the permit holder's safety.

In September, the Trumbull County prosecutor ordered the sheriff's office to stop reporters from writing down names of conceal carry holders and contacted the attorney general's office for a supporting opinion. Dann has now provided that, issuing the following interpretation of HB9:

"R.C. 2923.129(B)(2)(a) prohibits a journalist from making a reproduction by any means, other than through his own mental processes, of the information the journalist is permitted to view under that statute." (See the full opinion below.)

It is not clear whether newspapers or other groups will challenge the Strickland administration in court.

Attorney General Marc Dann's opinion begins by confirming what Buckeye Firearms Association has been explaining for years, and what editor after editor at Ohio's major newspapers seem not to understand: under Ohio law, CHL records are confidential and non-public.

    "...Irrespective of R.C. 149.43 and subject to the exception for inspections by journalists under R.C. 2923.129(B)(2), R.C. 2923.29(B)(1) not only excludes from the meaning of the term “public records,” but also makes confidential, the records kept by a county sheriff “relative to the issuance, renewal, suspension, or revocation of a license to carry a concealed handgun or the issuance, suspension, or revocation of a temporary emergency license to carry a concealed
    handgun.”

The opinion goes on to clarify that, despite what some anti-gun journalists and politicians had hoped, the word "copy" really does mean "copy" in a law that allows journalists to view, but not copy, the name, date of birth and county of residence of a CHL-holder.

    The General Assembly has not defined the word “copy,” as used in R.C. 2923.129(B). We must, therefore, look to the common meaning of that word. R.C. 1.42. The American Heritage Dictionary 322 (2d college ed. 1982), defines the noun “copy” as meaning, in part, “[a]n imitation or reproduction of something original; duplicate,” and the transitive verb “copy” as meaning, in part, “[t]o make a copy of.” Further indication of the meaning of the word “copy,” as used in R.C. 2923.129(B)(2)(a), is found in examining the remaining language of that statute. See generally State v. Williams, 79 Ohio St. 3d 459, 462, 683 N.E.2d 1126 (1997)
    (“[w]ords and phrases in a statute must be read in context of the whole statute”). Within R.C. 2923.129(B)(2)(a), the General Assembly has defined, by use of the word “view,” the actions a journalist may take with respect to the described names, counties of residence, and dates of birth. In contradistinction, the word “copy” defines the actions a journalist may not take with respect to such names, counties of residence, and dates of birth. According to The American Heritage Dictionary at 1348, the verb “view,” means, in part, “[t]o see; behold.” Because the only actions a journalist may take with respect to the names, counties of residence, and dates of birth of those described in R.C. 2923.129(B)(2)(a) is to see such information, we read the prohibition against a journalist’s copying such information as applying to the reproduction of the viewed information, by any means, including those you specifically mention—hand copying, handwritten notes, and dictation.6

    ...We conclude that R.C. 2923.129(B)(2)(a) prohibits a journalist from making a reproduction by any means, other than through his own mental processes, of the information the journalist is permitted to view under that statute.

The opinion also goes on to address questions regarding the process by which sheriffs shall allow journalists to view the confidential, non-public information, and whether or not journalists are breaking the law when they publish same. Conclusions are contained below:

    Conclusions

    Based upon the foregoing, it is my opinion, and you are hereby advised that:

    1. R.C. 2923.129(B)(2)(a) prohibits a journalist from making a reproduction by any means, other than through his own mental processes, of the information the journalist is permitted to view under that statute.

    2. A sheriff may exercise his discretion in determining a reasonable manner by which a journalist may view, but not copy, the information described in R.C. 2923.129(B)(2)(a), so long as the sheriff maintains the confidentiality of the other information “relative to the issuance, renewal, suspension, or revocation of a license to carry a concealed handgun or the issuance, suspension, or revocation of a temporary emergency license to carry a concealed handgun,” R.C. 2923.129(B)(1).

    3. The prohibition in R.C. 2923.129(B)(1) against the release or other dissemination of the information described therein prohibits anyone, subject to the exception in R.C. 2923.129(B)(2), from revealing, disclosing, or otherwise making known any of the information made confidential by that statute “unless required to do so pursuant to a court order,” or unless a statute specifically authorizes or requires other uses of such information.

    4. R.C. 2923.129(B)(1) does not prohibit a newspaper from publishing information that a journalist has viewed in accordance with R.C. 2923.129(B)(2).

OPINION NO. 2007-039

Media Coverage:

Warren Tribune-Chronicle - State clarifies access to gun records

Youngstown Vindicator - No copying concealed-carry list

Related Stories:
Attorney General Dann asked to settle questions on media access loophole

New law on media access to CHL records confuses...just about everyone

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