Governor signs budget bill - media access loophole is closed

Governor Kasich has signed HB 64, Ohio's biennial budget. Contained in the massive bill is language which removes the media access loophole (MAL), a provision which gave journalists a special exemption to access the confidential information of concealed handgun license (CHL) holders.

Senator Joe Uecker (R-Miami Township) proposed the amendment, which was adopted by the Ohio Senate in its version of the budget. It survived the conference committee report, and was passed by both the House and Senate.

The history of this fight goes back more than a decade, before concealed carry was law in Ohio. Then-Governor Bob Taft (R) had made campaign promises to sign concealed carry legislation, but then arranged to have the Senate kill it for him twice. The third time he had again promised to sign, but insisted that many “poison pills” be added to the bill, HB 12. (Much of our work over the past 10 years is removing those provisions, or “de-Tafting” our law.)

Finally, a deal was made and we had a concealed carry bill out of conference committee. The major media were beside themselves that they had not been able to kill it with their biased and factually incorrect “reporting” and editorializing. They insisted they be given access to license-holder information, and Taft decided he’d veto the Act he had promised to sign.

The Act was undone, the bill was re-amended in conference committee and re-voted in the House and Senate and sent again to the Governor, this time giving journalists access to license-holder's confidential information. The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. James Aslanides (R-Coshocton), said of the media access loophole, "If [journalists] abuse the privilege, we can cause them to lose the privilege."

The abuse, harassment and intimidation began almost immediately. At least ten media outlets (including what was at the time largest newspaper in the state – the Cleveland Plain Dealer) began publishing the names of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of law-abiding citizens who resided in some of the Buckeye State's most populous counties.

After the Sandusky Register published a list of license-holders, Buckeye Firearms Association received national attention from Rush Limbaugh for using Sandusky Register editor Matt Westerhold as a case study to demonstrate the types of sensitive information that can already be gathered through truly public records - not to mention newspapers making public information which statutorily was not to be public. In another case of abuse, the Middletown Journal used the MAL to compile and publish a list of elected officials in the Buckeye State who have obtained concealed handgun licenses.

On the other hand, the media have never used their access for their stated purpose, and through the many interviews I (Jim) have done on topic in the last month, not one reporter could tell me one good thing that has come from their access. The damage is impossible to measure. For some it was just embarrassment for being evicted from their apartment. For a former Ohio prison guard it meant being tracked down by a former inmate by using a concealed carry license list published in the local paper. For a couple of others we are aware of it was a tragic meeting with a jilted lover come to get final revenge.

Over the years of media abuse, the legislature has amended the media’s access to the data, but journalists continued to abuse the privilege, proving that half-measures will never help one accomplish the ultimate goal. They can get you closer, but never quite there.

At long last, and in fulfillment of a promise made by Rep. Aslanides more than a decade ago, the access that should never have been granted has been removed.

After a decade of improving the law, the information which Ohio law has ALWAYS considered to be confidential - not a public record (see O.R.C. § 2923.129 (B) (1) ) - is finally and truly private. No longer will applicants have to fear their confidential information falling into the hands of a scornful reporter.

We thank Senator Uecker and the other senators who supported this fix, the conference committee members who left it in the budget, and the House members who approved the measure. We also thank Governor Kasich for signing the final solution on this issue into law.

Jim Irvine is the Buckeye Firearms Association President, BFA PAC Chairman and recipient of the NRA-ILA's 2011 "Jay M. Littlefield Volunteer of the Year Award" and the CCRKBA's 2012 "Gun Rights Defender of the Year Award."

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, BFA PAC Vice Chairman, and an NRA-certified firearms instructor. He is the editor of BuckeyeFirearms.org, which received the Outdoor Writers of Ohio 2013 Supporting Member Award for Best Website.

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