Civitas Media scraps plans for state-by-state database of CCW license-holders

Last week, a confidential source provided me with an internal email from the director of content of Civitas Media, a North Carolina-based company which owns some 88 newspapers in 12 states, including 38 here in Ohio.

The January 19 email stated that the company was planning to use "public records act requests" to "build state-by-state databases that list" people with concealed carry licenses.

Here is a scan of the original email with email addresses redacted.

Buckeye Firearms Association immediately set about to confirm the authenticity of the email so that we could make the public aware of this disturbing development.

We contacted various Civitas employees on both Wednesday, January 22 and Thursday, January 23, but while several confirmed the existence of the email, no one at the company, including Jim Lawitz, the man who wrote the email, was willing to provide any public comment to Buckeye Firearms Association concerning the status of plans to create this database.

Even after explaining to him how concerned the public was going to be about even the idea of creating a database, the most I was able to get Lawitz to say publicly was that "we have no plans to publish any names on any lists."

Lawitz would not otherwise comment on the record about the status of the company's plans for building the "state-by-state databases" referred to in his January 19 email, and, as I observed in my January 24 article, in which we broke the story, "whether or not this statement proves satisfactory to the gun rights community remains to be seen."

The answer was not long in coming. The article went live on at 7:00AM. Less than 90 minutes later had picked it up. Less than two hours after that added a link to the piece, and by 1:00PM I had been interviewed by Fox News reporter Josh Miller and the resulting article was posted as the top story at

And so, almost exactly 24 hours after my conversation with Mr. Lawitz ended with that very short public statement, the company released the following:

Civitas Media never had any plans or intentions of publishing in print or online lists of holders of "conceal and carry" permits. Nor will Civitas Media develop databases of permit holders. A poorly crafted internal memo meant to highlight editorial discussions and planning incorrectly indicated that such a database was being planned; it has been considered and rejected.

Michael C. Bush, CEO

I wonder. Why wasn't Mr. Lawitz willing to give me this statement when I spoke to him the day before my article was published? Could it be that he, like so many journalists before him, didn't anticipate the backlash that it would cause?

As for Mr. Bush's statement, and for comparison, here again is the pertinent text of the so-called "poorly crafted internal memo":

Civitas Media editorial report – Jan. 13- Jan. 17
From Jim Lawitz

We are launching two enterprise projects across our newsrooms this month. The first will deal with the creeping influence of heroin in our communities. The deadly drug has quietly taken over, reaching across all age groups and eclipsing meth as the recreational drug of choice. The second project examines the explosion of "conceal and carry" gun permits across the U.S. Through public records act requests, we will attempt to build state-by-state databases that list those who have the right to carry a concealed weapon. (emphasis added)

So we see that the original email states that "we are launching" a project on the increase in the nationwide concealed carry licenses and that "we will attempt to build state-by-state databases that list those who have the right to carry a concealed weapon."

Now, after an intense wave of national media scrutiny, we are being asked to believe that this was little more than an idea discussed in a "poorly crafted internal memo," written by someone who, according to the company's website, has more than 30 years experience in a newsroom - a person who writes words for a living and knows that words have meaning.

The bottom line is this - even if that is the case, the very fact that the building of this state-by-state database admittedly "has been considered" by such a large newspaper conglomerate is every bit as still worthy of the national attention it is receiving.

And it is receiving a LOT of attention.

Two posts on the website of the completely unconnected North Carolina-based Civitas Institute, seems to indicate that people all over the country began contacting anything associated with the name Civitas.

The first, entitled "Civitas Institute Has No Link to Newspapers that Eyed Permit Database" states that "it's very important to understand that the Civitas Institute has no connection whatsoever to a newspaper chain that reportedly was considering a database of people with concealed-carry permits. There is no connection between the nonprofit Civitas Institute and the newspaper chain, a private company which by coincidence is headquartered in North Carolina, but has newspapers across the country. The Civitas Institute fully supports the Second Amendment, and the right of law-abiding citizens to obtain permits to legally carry concealed firearms. The gun-registry scheme looks like a tactic to intimidate and harass people who have legal permits to carry firearms to protect themselves." The post went on to suggest that people who agree with them should contact Civitas Media CEO Michael Bush, and provided his email and telephone number.

A letter to supporters, also posted on the Institute website, is entitled "Civitas Supports the 2nd Amendment." The letter seeks to "reassure you that there is no connection whatsoever between the Civitas Institute and a newspaper chain that reportedly was planning to create a nationwide database of people with legal permits to carry concealed firearms." The letter concludes with this: "P.S. On Dec. 7, several Civitas Institute employees underwent training to qualify for their NC concealed firearms permits!"

As I explained to Fox News' Josh Miller, each and every time a newspaper organization does this type of thing, the public reacts very strongly to it. Law-abiding gun owners who choose to exercise their Second Amendment rights do not deserve to be treated as though they are registered sex offenders, outed on a public list as "undesirables," which is why we react so strongly to even the "idea" or "discussion" of the building of a database.

Again, Mr. Lawitz has more than 30 years newsroom experience. The company's other executives likewise have extensive history in the media business. And yet, despite the long history of backlash toward media organizations who attempt to target gun owners in this way (most recently in a widely covered case in White Plains, N.Y just last year), it appears that Civitas Media executives were somehow still unaware of how completely unpopular the creation of lists of gun owners is.

Had they known, they would have provided this latest public statement to me before I published the article. Strike that - had they known - the idea of creating this database of gun owners would never have been discussed in the first place. Perhaps the next generation of journalists will have a better memory.

The entire purpose for Buckeye Firearms Association's release of this email was to get the database project stopped, and we are thrilled to see that it has been. As Ronald Reagan used to say about the Soviet Union, we'll trust...but verify.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, and BFA PAC Vice Chairman.

Media Coverage: - Newspaper boss says gun permit database idea was misfire

Chad Baus, secretary of the Buckeye Firearms Association, told he received the email from a confidential source within the company who was "concerned" about the media group's plans.

"The goal is to raise awareness because each and every time a newspaper organization does this type of thing, the public reacts very strongly to it," Baus said. "There's no other purpose for creating these lists but to target and victimize gun owners," Baus told Op-Ed - Potential concealed weapon databases by Civitas Media won't make US safer - Newspaper group plans gun database, changes mind when email leaked

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