Dayton Daily News: Fight rages on gun disclosure
As a set-up for a roundtable forum the Dayton Daily News is sponsoring this Thursday, May 5, the newspaper has published a story which attempts to examine both sides of the debate. As most readers have come to expect from the DDN, however, their story leans heavily towards the position the writers and editors themselves hold personally.
From the story:
- Kettering resident Patt Duffy figures she has every right to know who has a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
"I can't understand why they want the records closed unless they're trying to hide something," said Duffy, 67, a retiree. "I think if the guy next door has a permit, I have a right to know. There are so many guns out there now, if we're going to add more, we might as well know about those."
But under Ohio law, Duffy does not have the right to know who the 45,500 permit holders are. Those records are closed to the public and only journalists are allowed access.
Patrick Offenberger, a truck driver from Dayton, doesn't think journalists or anyone else should be given access — and he's even a little leery about police keeping records.
"If it was open to the public, that would go ahead and target people. Criminals could look at (the permit holder list) and say, 'They have a gun, I don't want to mess with them. This person doesn't have a gun, I can mess with them,' " said Offenberger, 50. "Criminals might look dumb, but it's a clever disguise. Some of these guys are pretty slick."
Like many Ohioans, Offenberger and Duffy are sharply divided over the right to privacy versus the right to know when it comes to concealed weapons.
Writer Laura Bischoff offers no evidence to back up her editorial claim that Ohioans are divided on this issue. Although it was provided to her in preparation for this story, she failed to mention that a recent Columbus Dispatch poll found that 66% said they believe too much personal information is available to the public. Nor did she mention the results of a national poll, released just last week, in which two-thirds of those polled said journalists invade people's privacy too often.
Again, from the story:
- According to Packing.org, a pro-gun rights Web site, about two-thirds of states keep concealed weapons records private and one-third open them to the public.
Ohio is the only state that closes the records but then allows journalists to obtain permit holders' names, counties of residence and dates of birth, according to Ohioans for Concealed Carry, a pro-gun rights group.
Gov. Bob Taft had threatened to veto the gun bill if the records were closed to the general public, but he later signed legislation that included the compromise of letting reporters see who has permits.
Although it was provided to her, there is no mention of the irony of Gov. Taft having acted to remove former prisoners' private information from the Internet out of a concern that it might be an embarrassment to them.
Rep. Jim Aslanides told the DDN he is upset that some media outlets have published lists of license-holders, which he believes puts those gun owners at risk of being targeted by criminals seeking guns.
"They are not using discretion. They're simply doing it to harass, and it's drawing attention to the issue," Aslanides told the DDN.
The article then quickly shifted gears to providing quotes from open records advocates who discounted the need for privacy by CHL-holders.
- "There is something about keeping people accountable when it's public," said Toby Hoover, head of Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence. "I'd be for having this as public record, period, not just for journalists. I think I have the right to know if my kids go in a car with somebody whether that person is carrying. I think I have a right to know if I hire somebody to come in and paint my house whether that person is carrying."
Ohioans for Concealed Carry spokesman Chad Baus said Hoover should "wake up" to the fact that criminals carry guns every day. (Hoover's first husband was shot to death in 1973 during a hardware store robbery.)
Gun owners who submit to 12 hours of training and a criminal background check shouldn't be treated like sex offenders or people with deadly diseases, Baus said.
"There is no reason for this irrational fear," he said.
(Editor's Note: Although I told her, there is no mention by Bischoff of the fact that I too am in this fight because I had a family member become a victim of violence, nor that he still is alive because he had a gun and fought back! Nor does the writer bother to mention the rest of my quote -that Hoover is completely naïve if she believes she can know she is in the presence of someone with a firearm simply because this list is public.)
The article starts and finishes with quotes from a woman who "laughs heartily" at the suggestion that CHL-holders are put at risk by having their names published.
An accompanying story in the Sunday DDN is entitled: Many former officers carry concealed weapons , and "outs" a number of former public officials or law enforcement officers who have obtained CHLs or who carry concealed. Is this why they said they needed the media access loophole?
Once again, these articles were published as a set-up for a roundtable discussion on this issue, set to be held Wednesday, May 5. Can we expect the forum to be any less tilted? From the invitation OFCC received:
- Who should have access to concealed-carry permits — the public at large, law enforcement only, the media? And what’s the responsibility of the media if it has access to that information — to report it to the public or not? Our roundtable discussion May 5 will look at these issues as well as the larger topics of open government and media coverage of the concealed-carry issue. The roundtable is part of a national effort sponsored by the Associated Press Managing Editors. The Dayton Daily News is the first newspaper in the country to present a roundtable under this program, and we anticipate a lively, thoughtful and civil discussion.
The session will be facilitated by Dr. Richard Stock, a University of Dayton researcher. About 15 people will be on the panel; their names and affiliations are attached. We expect about 30 people in the audience.
OFCC's Senate District 10 Coordinator Larry S. Moore will be on the panel. Although not a final list, the names and positions of panelists suggest a heavy tilt to the side of open records.
To read comments provided to DDN reporter in advance of today's story, click on the "Read More..." link below.
Following are the comments provided to Laura Bischoff nearly two weeks in advance of this story's publication, but that she found room for only ten of in her article.
YOU ASKED: Should [licenses] be public records open to all? Why or why not?
You may find it interesting to know that some have told us we shouldn't oppose CHL-records being public, because it could be used by pro-gun organizations as a membership recruiting tool. But the whole reason we all give our personal time as volunteers to OFCC is because we believe so strongly in allowing people the ability to PROTECT themselves. The media access loophole diminishes that ability for some people when it is abused as it has been, as would making these records open to the general public, and that's why we oppose it.
OFCC supports the idea that records of governmental activity should be public. In fact, we have used the open records law to find out what media sources are collecting this information without license-holders' knowledge. A simple request to any sheriff can give us copies of every records request ever sent by a journalist. In a few instances, we've even found some examples of improper media requests (not following statutorial requirements) being honored by sheriffs. Oops - felony. There have also been denials by sheriffs who have argued that the "public good" was not established.
On the other hand, many records held by the government (the personal info on driver's licenses, W2 statements, tax returns, etc.) are personal and private, as should be persons' status as a CHL-holder. Society has a vested interest in safeguarding the privacy of individuals and keeping private information secure.
YOU ASKED: I've heard the argument that an abused ex-wife want to keep it quiet that she is carrying a concealed weapon. But what about the abused ex-wife who wants to know if her ex is packing?
It's actually more common to hear from people who want to keep their location a secret, not that they are carrying. People who are trying to hide from an abusive spouse or stalker cannot afford to have their name, country of residence and birth date published in the newspaper or made available as a public record. That is MORE than enough info to definitively locate a person using the Internet.
Also, it is completely naïve for the abused ex-wife to believe she CAN know her ex is carrying a firearm if these records are public, because countless criminals carry illegally and commit crimes with their illegally-possessed/obtained/carried firearms every day. Amy Rezos' husband (see the recently-[introduced] Amy's Law) didn't get a CHL. How could a public records have helped her in the slightest? This is similar to the gun ban lobby claiming people have a right not to be around people carrying hidden guns. Don't they read the crime blotters? Who do they think they're kidding? At best, public records helps citizens know the identities of all the "right" people who are carrying, but does NOTHING to help ID the criminal predators among us.
One other concern for publicly announcing who is carrying is that it defeats the element of surprise for anyone who bothers to check their target before they plan an attack. If a woman like Amy Rezos gets a CHL and carries for protection, do you think printing that information in the paper is a good thing? Is she more or less safe if her attacker (or hit man) knows she is armed? Give this knowledge to her attacker, and the element of surprise is removed. Any attack plan will simply be modified into an ambush plan.
In fact, last year, one CHL-holder was ambushed and murdered outside his store just days after his name was published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Do we know for sure if these criminals ambushed Singleton (shot first, stole later) because they knew he was armed? No. Should we wait around until we have definitive proof someone died because of the abuse of this privilege, before we offer people the protection they deserve? Of course not!
Potential for discrimination:
Ohio gun-ban extremist Toby Hoover is on record encouraging employers to consider whether or not a potential new-hire is a CHL-holder before hiring. This type of discrimination is unacceptable.
- "The Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence agrees with the governor. The public has the right to know who has a permit so we can make appropriate choices for our families. We have the right to not hire, socialize, or share public space with those who carry hidden guns." (November 21, 2003)
What's next? Should medical records be released so that newspapers can publish lists of HIV-infected persons? Don't I have the "right to know" if my sons’ teachers have a deadly communicable disease? Maybe after that people should register their religious beliefs with the state, so self-righteous bigots can make sure they don't have to live next to "those" kind of people.
Creates firearms shopping list for criminals:
Contrary to the claims of a few, criminals ARE smart enough to use the newspaper or other records placed in the public domain to pre-plan their crimes. In the past year, we have documented two instances in Ohio where a robber and rapist used newspaper ads (the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Akron Beacon Journal, respectively) to lure their victims into a trap.
Instances of criminals targeting particular locations they know to contain specific valuables (such as firearms), and staking out or casing residences to make sure no one is home, are common and well documented.
Name, county of residence and birthdate is MORE than enough info to find a home address, within minutes, on the Internet.
YOU ASKED: Why should these records be any different than other optional licenses issued by the state (such as barber, doctor, hunter, driver)?
Actually, Federal law provides an opt-out clause for drivers' license records. This law came as a direct result of the stalking murder of actress Rebecca Schaefer in the 90's. Her murderer used public drivers' license info to locate her residence. Congress responded by allowing citizens the ability to sign and affidavit and keep their drivers' license info private.
Unlike these other licensed activities (which are privileges, not rights under our state Constitution, as is the right to bear arms for self-defense) the entire purpose for a CHL is to allow people a legal means of self-protection. Publishing their names in the paper runs directly counter to that goal.
If only there was a way for CHL-holders who fear the release of their information to shield it, as drivers can. I would HOPE that in the midst of the concerns for open records at the media end, there would be some concern for the types of individuals I mentioned...?
YOU ASKED: Is just allowing journalists access a good compromise or should that be changed?
I think we'll find common ground here in the opinion this was a horrible compromise. No other state calls the records private, then allows access to journalists.
The definition of journalist in the ORC is extremely loose. The way the concealed carry law reads, our legal counsel has said they believe if a blogger wanted to access the names they'd just send the request and point to the code to verify their status as a media outlet. A web-log clearly fits the ORC definition of a media organization. This highlights yet another of our problems with the law.
Ohio law calls these records private, but allows the media the privilege of accessing them. Certain news media persons have proven they can't handle the responsibility.
Privacy for everyone but CHL-holders:
Ohioans who have chosen to exercise their Constitutional right to bear arms for self-defense do not deserve to be treated like members of some sex offender registry. They have broken no laws, and in fact have already proven to be far more law-abiding than the general population. There is no reason for them to be held under suspicion, and every reason to give them the privacy that, for instance, Governor Bob Taft recently said felons deserve.
Last year, Taft (who had just months earlier threatened to veto the concealed carry bill unless the Media Access Loophole was inserted) ordered Ohio prison officials to remove the names of all former inmates from the state's Web site. The Akron Beacon Journal reported that thousands of names, plus photos and the descriptions of crimes committed by former convicts -- records that had been available to the public 24 hours a day for six years -- were removed.
"We have found... because certain former inmates have their picture on the Web site, it's been a disadvantage for them and an embarrassment that has kept them in some cases from getting jobs, and we think that is unfair,'' Prison Director Reginald Wilkinson told the newspaper. An interesting statement, considering that Ohio gun-ban extremist Toby Hoover is on record encouraging employers to consider whether or not a potential new-hire is a CHL-holder before giving them a job.
Mark Paulus, who was an inmate in the 1990s, told the newspaper he was stigmatized by the Web site, which revealed his criminal past and embarrassed him and his wife and son.
"Even though you paid your debt and the punishment was over, there was really no end to it, no matter where you went, because it was always available on the Internet,'' he said.
Ohio CHL-holders have done nothing wrong, and do not deserve to be treated worse than the state does convicted felons or sex offenders.
The news media and Bob Taft claimed this privilege was needed as a check and balance, to ensure the “wrong” people weren’t getting licenses. But it hasn’t been used as such. The media prints stories about motorcycle accidents and generally the last line of the story notes whether or not the accident victims are wearing helmets. Likewise, the last line of stories of automobile accidents advises whether the victims were wearing seat belts. It is certainly always news when a driver committed a crime or traffic violation and was found to be operating the vehicle without a license. Yet only on two occasions that we are aware of in the past year, when a criminal was arrested after using a handgun in a crime, did the story note that the criminal had not bothered to go to the trouble of obtaining a CHL.
YOU ASKED: What other revisions would you like to see made to the law?
There are many. Here are some top items.
THOUGHTS ON NEWSPAPER'S ABUSE OF THE LOOPHOLE:
Is this how WE should act when we don’t like a law?
In 1956, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Ohioans have the right to keep their private affairs private. The General Assembly decided to keep these records private, with a caveat for the media to check a record if there is an established public interest.
One of the most offensive things about the actions of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the ten or so other media organizations that have published these lists is that they openly acknowledge they are violating the will of the state legislature. They admit in editorials that the General Assembly intended for this information to stay private. The legislators gave them public warnings that this type of activity would be considered abuse, and would be grounds for losing the privilege.
The ONA’s Frank Deaner claims his members have been responsible with the privilege. Tell that to the 85 people in Shelby County who had their street addresses published by the Sidney Daily News.
To subvert the will of the General Assembly, simply because you don't like what it says, is the worst sort of juvenile behavior. Had gun-owners acted this way during the 10-year debate over concealed carry, we'd have simply ignored the law and carried firearms wherever we wanted.
Ohio newspapers have never proved a public demand for this, or even tried. The Plain Dealer never polled its readers. When a Ft. Wayne paper (the News-Sentinel) did ask their readers if they should publish the lists, 95% of responses said NO! There was never a public outcry for these records to be open in Ohio. This entire debate was manufactured by the Ohio Newspaper Association, and inserted in the law by Bob Taft as an attempted poison pill.
In the 2004 Values Poll, Zogby Intl. found that voters overwhelmingly favor these self-protection laws by a margin of 79% to 18%. Right-to-Carry drew better than 70% support in every demographic group, with even non-gun owners indicating their backing by 73% to 23%. There is a reason Ohio newspapers don’t ask.
A recent Columbus Dispatch poll on open records found that 66% said they believe too much personal information is available to the public, and indicated that Ohioans are more interested in records related to the activities of law-breakers than in personal information about their neighbors.
Sometimes the media’s self-appointed status as a watchdog for the people rings a little hollow.
No need to fear the law-abiding:
When the law was passed, the Akron Beacon-Journal said "the easier it is to get and carry a handgun, the more likely there will be accidental shootings and arguments that turn into fatal encounters."
The Dayton Daily News said "many so-called law-abiding people have been known to beat their spouses, drink and drive or get in fights in parking lots. Now these people will be able to legally have a gun hidden in their jacket."
The Columbus Dispatch said "many people who become criminals do not intend to commit a crime. Normal temperance can be overcome by circumstance and emotion, making a gun lawfully hidden under a shirt or in a purse potentially deadly to everyone around, whether by intent, momentary lapse in judgment or accident."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer said "the ones who need protecting aren't the folks who tuck a Glock under their armpit every time they step out to walk the dog or buy a quart of milk. [We] can't help thinking that folks who carry concealed weapons aren't the ones quoting Gandhi."
The PD won a Pulitzer for that one. And well, actually, we DO enjoy quoting Gandhi –
'Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.' Gandhi, Chapter XXVII, "The Recruiting Campaign," in his autobiography, My Experiments with Truth
The bottom line here? These Chicken Littles were WRONG. Why should Ohioans continue to allow them to abuse innocent people under the guise of protecting the rest of us? Their real agenda is all too clear.