Lawmaker wants to close Media Access Loophole
The Dayton Daily News is reporting that State Rep. William Seitz, R-Cincinnati, who chairs the pivotal House Civil & Commercial Law Committee, announced Wednesday he wants to use legislative proposal concerning "open records", which proponents say is needed to strengthen access to public records, to close public access to the names of Ohioans who have received concealed handgun licenses.
From the story:
- "The names of people who have exercised their lawful right to carry a concealed weapon for their own safety is not, in my view, a proper public record," said Seitz, chairman of the Civil and Commercial Law Committee.
In addition to concealed-carry, Seitz said the committee might want to consider other exemptions to Ohio's open records law to "protect privacy rights of people throughout Ohio."
According to the newspaper, Seitz commented before and after his committee held its first hearing on legislation sponsored by Rep. Scott Oelslager, R-Canton, that would require all elected public officials to attend training programs every two years about the state's open records and open meeting laws.
For those who follow such matters, this bill is the one which the Ohio Newspaper Association has spent the entire past year lobbying for, and that has been given numerous editorial pushes from ONA-member newspapers that began after a survey conducted last April by 43 newspapers and other media. Journalists anonymously visited city halls, police stations and school boards across Ohio to request routine information, and claimed they were denied unconditional and timely access to routine records half of the time.
Ohio's concealed-carry law, signed Jan. 8, 2004, by Gov. Bob Taft, gives journalists, access to the list of license holders maintained by county sheriffs. This Media Access Loophole allows journalists to obtain the name, county of residence and date of birth of persons issued a permit. Since last year, frequent abuses of the loophole have given rise to a call for it to be closed.
Again, from the story:
- Taft had threatened to veto a previous bill that would have given journalists, but not the general public, access to permit holders' identities on a name-by-name basis only.
Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro reported Tuesday that in the first nine months of the new law, Ohio sheriffs issued 45,497 licenses. Montgomery County, with 2,249, ranked second in the state.
Mark Rickel, Taft's spokesman, said, "The governor is strongly opposed to denying press access to the list as it assures the accountability of the permitting process."
But the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports Rickel said it is too early to say whether Taft would veto a records bill that closed the Media Access Loophole.
And the newspaper says Seitz said he did not view rescinding the provision as breaking a promise to Taft.
"We're going to try to get him to change his mind on a whole lot of concealed carry" this session, he said. "He's asking us to change our mind on a whole lot of tax policy."
According to the Plain Dealer, Rep. Seitz says the bill is a perfect forum for revisiting who should be allowed access to CHL records -- as well as an array of other public records, including autopsy photos, now open to both reporters and the general public.
"We might consider whether the current list of exemptions is sufficiently broad to protect privacy rights of people throughout Ohio," he is quoted as saying.
Rep. Oelslager told newspapers that Seitz's idea "would add a lot more controversy to the bill," but declined to say whether he supported Seitz's concealed-carry proposal.
"Another option might be putting this issue on its own in another piece of legislation," he said.
But where else does the debate of the right to privacy and consideration of closing the Media Access Loophole belong if not when considering legislation that deals with public records?
From the DDN story:
- "We'll just have to work through it. ... I need to work with Rep. Seitz and see where it might lead. It's too early for me to say one way or another," Oelslager said.
Chad Baus, spokesman for Ohioans for Concealed Carry, praised Seitz. "A lot of people who get concealed handgun licenses have been victims of crime, domestic violence," Baus said. These people, he said, are "trying hard to hide" and cannot "take the risk" of having their names published in a newspaper.
Attorney General Jim Petro has also been a vocal proponent of the ONA's open records legislation, and testified in favor of it yesterday. After the hearing, the Dayton Daily News said he at first declined to comment specifically on Seitz's proposal.
Again, from the DDN:
- [Petro] said there should be a "demonstrated need" before exceptions were made to the open records law.
Reminded that in the past he had said concealed-carry records should be available not only to reporters, but to the public, Petro said, "I just kind of said the same thing again."
"I just want to see what the legislature comes up with. We're going to have to work with them on this," he said.
Frank Deaner, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said Seitz seemed to be going in the "opposite direction" from the intent of Oelslager's bill, which Deaner's group supports.
"I don't think this bill is the proper vehicle to open the debate on (open records) for concealed-carry," Deaner said.
Welcome to the party, Mr. Deaner. We didn't think the Ohio House Bill 12, which is now our concealed handgun license law, was the vehicle for an 11th hour debate on privacy-invasion either.
From the Plain Dealer story:
- [In the first nine months], Cuyahoga County saw the fewest permits issued per person in the state, less than one per 1,000 residents.
By contrast, adjacent Geauga County experienced one of the state's highest permitting rates: 17 licenses for every 1,000 people.
The per capita figures, which were not in the report, were calculated by dividing county totals by county population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Urban-rural neighbors across the state showed similar patterns.
Rep. Jim Aslanides, the Coshocton Republican who sponsored the concealed weapons bill, blamed public disclosure of the names, at least in part, for the lower than expected permit issuance in the program's first year.
Frank Deaner, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said newspapers have been "very judicious" in their use of the information.
OFCC PAC covers the supposed "judicious" use of the Media Access Loophole here.
Also, the Plain Dealer neglected to mention that in the first month, Cuyahoga County Sheriff McFaul refused to take applications and had to be sued to get him to do his job. Even now, in the state's most populous county, McFaul only takes applications by appointment, and three days per week. This is a trend in other urban counties, and accounts for the low ratio of licenses as a precentage of population.
Back to the issue of open records:
In the past year, at least 7, and probably several more, Ohio newspapers have published the names of thousands upon thousands of concealed handgun license-holders who have broken no laws, violated no other persons' rights, and who simply wish to exercise their constitutional right to self-defense.
Before it was passed, Ohioans For Concealed Carry gave legislators plenty of reasons why Bob Taft's media access loophole was dangerous.
Chiefly, we told them that criminals ARE smart enough to use the newspaper or other records placed in the public domain to pre-plan their crimes.
We warned legislators about actress Rebecca Shaefer, who was stalked and murdered in the early 90's by Robert John Bardo because driver's license information was easily obtained for a small fee. This prompted federal legislation making the dissemination of such information illegal.
In the past year, we have documented two instances in Ohio where a robber and rapist used newspaper ads to lure their victims into a trap.
We warned legislators that 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.
There are many other reasons we must act to close the Media Access Loophole.
For example, 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.
Some persons who seek to bear arms for self-defense are trying desperately not to be found - such as battered wives hiding from their former husbands.
What if the violent stalker who was shot by this Indiana woman had known in advance that she was carrying? ''God's grace'' (and concealed firearm) saves Indiana woman's life.
What if this armed criminal had known in advance this Toledo CHL-holder had just received his concealed handgun license? Clerk says he shot to save his life in robbery.
The Ohio Newspaper Association and these editors apparently care nothing for people like this in Ohio, much less about your opinion.
Rep. James Aslanides (R-Coshocton), the concealed carry bill's original sponsor, said in conference committee and during a short floor speech in January 2004 that he would lead an effort to roll back the media access if the "privilege" is abused.
"If they abuse the privilege, we can cause them to lose the privilege," he declared, pointing out that the Pennsylvania Legislature struck a similar provision after a newspaper published a list of permit holders.
- Aslanides can be reached at:
Telephone: (614) 644-6014
Fax: (614) 644-9494
Email Address: [email protected]
Sen. Steve Austria seconded this warning, adding that publishing the names of license-holders would be the exact kind of abuse they're referring to, since publishing these names would threaten the safety of the very men and women who have chosen to bear arms for self-defense.
- Austria can be reached at:
"I don't think we need to worry about journalists doing their job," state Sen. Marc Dann, a Youngstown area Democrat, told Mr. Aslanides.
- Dann can be reached at:
Rep. Scott Oelslager is the sponsor of the ONA's open records legislation.
- Oelslager can be reached at:
Telephone: (614) 752-2438
Fax: (614) 644-9494
Email Address: [email protected]
Don't forget to thank Rep. Bill Seitz for his actions to protect CHL-holders' privacy:
- Seitz can be reached at:
Email Address: [email protected]
It is time, honorable legislators - it is past time.