Journalist exploits Ohio media access loophole to expose elected officials who have obtained concealed handgun licenses

by Chad D. Baus

Jessica Heffner, a staff writer for The Middletown Journal, has used a provision in Ohio law to compile and publish a list of elected officials in the Buckeye State who have obtained concealed handgun licenses.

Under O.R.C. § 2923.129 (B) (1), Ohio law specifically states that the CHL list is confidential - not a public record:

    "The records that a sheriff keeps relative to [concealed handgun licenses] ARE CONFIDENTIAL AND ARE NOT PUBLIC RECORDS." (emphasis added)

However, when Ohio's concealed handgun licensure law was first passed in 2004, a poison pill was inserted by then-Governor Bob Taft (R). Dubbed the Media Access Loophole, the law allowed media outlets across the state, which had fought passage of the CCW law for years, to begin using the loophole to obtain and publish lists containing the private, personal information of Ohioans who had obtained a license to carry. This practice had a chilling affect on the number of people who sought to obtain licenses (just as the media likely hoped that it would), and it prompted Buckeye Firearms Association and other pro-gun rights groups to call on the legislature to close the loophole.

Heffner's article appears to be the first use of Ohio's media access loophole to expose a list of license-holders since the Ohio legislature attempted to clarify its intent in giving journalists access to the records via passage of House Bill 9 in 2006, and allowing journalists to view, but not copy, the list.

From the article:

The number of people choosing to get a concealed-carry permit in Ohio is increasing and among that number are many local politicians. In the wake of deadly shootings across the country, some representatives said they should be allowed to carry guns into meetings.

Out of dozens of elected officials in Hamilton, Fairfield, Middletown, Monroe, Trenton and West Chester Twp. representing school boards, councils, courts, and working at the state and county level, only 12 have concealed-carry permits.

In Ohio, the public is prohibited from viewing concealed-carry permit records unless the information is gathered by a journalist, but even the basis of that access is limited.

The Middletown Journal had to provide a signed request for the sheriff's approval detailing what information would be accessed and for what purpose. Due to provisions in the law, the names of public officials holding a permit could not be recorded or copied in any way, but rather the database had to be viewed in person and the information gathered committed to memory for this report.

Heffner notes in her article that each one of the people she exposed in her article agreed their decision to get a concealed carry license was related to safety and a desire to protect themselves either as a citizen, business owner or politician in a potentially volatile situation.

It's a right and a permit Edgewood School Board Member David Osborne said he wished more people would use because he thought it would make the world in general a safer place.

"I think that it is a deterrent to crime," he said. "If 10 percent of people had a weapon, that would mean if there were 10 people in the bank one would have a gun. That's a pretty good deterrent."

...High profile shootings such as the Tucson, Ariz., shooting where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was critically injured and six people were killed has prompted many public officials to say they'd prefer to carry into meetings because they’re concerned about their safety.

State Rep. Ron Maag, R-Lebanon, not only has his permit, but also teaches concealed-carry classes. As a politician, he said he feels it's vital for his own protection.

"The reason I carry a gun is because I can't carry a cop," Maag said. "Any elected official in the course of their duties should be able to carry a gun if they want it."

"I've gotten calls from people who have a mayor's court and a judge can carry a gun into court if he wants, but a mayor can't. Our laws make no sense," Maag added.

Fairfield City Council has taken the threat to public officials seriously enough to have recently installed a bullet-proof covering on the chamber's dais. The addition — which cost about $10,000 — was made not long after a gunman opened fire at a school board meeting in Florida in December and Giffords was shot in Arizona, said Mayor Ron D’Epifanio.

"You never know what is going on with the craziness," he said. "We've actually had drills with the police chief."

D'Epifanio said he's had a CCW for several years but only began carrying recently when his views on local immigration law enforcement led to him being confronted in a grocery store parking lot. He said he always carries now — except when in chambers since it's against Ohio law to have a gun in government buildings unless you are in law enforcement.

D'Epifanio told Heffner he feels the law is still too restrictive, observing that "We are losing too many rights that we had people die for," D'Epifanio said. "With the rampant crime in this country it's a shame."

George Lang, a trustee in West Chester Twp., agreed but said he thinks anyone should be allowed to carry into any situation they want so long as they have a permit.

"Our lives are no more precious than a non-elected person and anyone who wants to protect themselves should be able to carry into public buildings," Lang said.

...Being prepared whether you're a politician or not is why Lang and his wife took the concealed-carry class together and are both licensed. Lang said he carries his Glock 23 everyday.

"Unfortunately most people depend upon law enforcement to protect them. The reality is you can't expect the police to protect you in the situation of an emergency because of the (time) it takes to respond," Lang said.

Existing laws are fine as far as Hamilton Councilwoman Kathleen Klink is concerned. She got her CCW though a special Hamilton police department class for women and felt the training "was extraordinary."

"I needed to feel like I was quite sure and confident I could take care of myself," she said.

...Middletown Councilman A.J. Smith said he took his permit class not long after turning 21 with his parents and carries two guns — a Ruger P-95 and Glock 30 — because he likes to have both. He said he got his permit after receiving "death threats" following incidents with police and taking a vocal stand on public union rights.

The article contains a section discussing the latest changes to Ohio's concealed carry law, which take effect September, 30, and also notes that "it's possible laws could be expanded even further in the future.

The article notes that Ohio Rep. Tim Derickson, R-Hanover Twp. also has his CHL. He is quoted as saying he'd rather not give an opinion on how he'd vote on an expansion of concealed-carry laws but admitted "I could see it forthcoming."

And so, yet another journalist has used the Media Access Loophole to expose information which Ohio law declares to be confidential and not a public record. Meanwhile, journalists like Heffner continue to fail to use the loophole to investigate whether or not people accused of gun crimes had concealed handgun licenses, or report the fact that the answer is almost always no.

As originally passed by the House (by a 93-1 vote!), HB9 contained contained language which would have to allowed people with CHLs to completely protect their private, personal information from the media. Sadly, the language was stripped out by Republicans in the Ohio Senate and replaced with the watered-down "view but not copy" modification, which eventually became law, and which we warned at the time was not going to be enough to prevent anti-gun newspapers from obtaining and publishing the names of license-holders.

Now that still more Ohioans have had their confidential information exposed, without even an attempt to explain how publishing the private, personal information serves the public interest, perhaps the current crop of Republicans in the Ohio House and Senate will agree it is time to close the loophole once and for all.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.

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