Open records should not extend to gun owners' private information

by Chad D. Baus

Gun owners used to finding themselves diametrically opposed to the media when it comes to the topic of concealed handgun license records being publicly accessible might be surprised to find themselves in agreement with much of a recent editorial by Akron Beacon Journal's Managing Editor Mizell Stewart III, entitled "Government records laws benefit us all".

From the editorial:

    Government in the sunshine.

    That is the notion that our government should operate in the open -- and that a representative democracy depends on citizens who have access to the chambers where decisions are made and the information those decisions are based on.

    Journalists spend an awful lot of time defending the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press, and rightly so. But the right of citizens to petition the government for redress of grievances is just as important.

    Think about that right this way: In the absence of open records and open meetings, you would likely have no idea what to petition the government for.

    The topic of open government comes to mind this week because of a confluence of events -- the 40th anniversary of the federal Freedom of Information Act and the tumultuous leadership transition at the Summit County Children Services Board.

    Then-President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) into law in 1966. Since then, the act has been used by citizens, reporters, and, increasingly, private businesses to expose fraud, identify waste and provide ready access to public information.

    The federal act is similar to open records laws in many states, including Ohio, requiring government agencies to reveal information on request.

    But government is doing a great job of enacting laws and issuing regulations telling the rest of us what to do -- and a lousy job of following its own rules when it comes to sharing information with the public.

Stewart goes on to document cases whereby requests for information about the operation of various government services were obfuscated.

Again, from the editorial:

    Much of the news you read each day would be impossible to gather if it weren't for laws providing for and protecting public access to government information.

    From the late Charles Plinton's travails at the University of Akron to the question of nepotism in Summit County government, access to public information is a crucial element of the newspaper's ability to fulfill its watchdog role in the community. But this information is not useful only for journalists.

    Need a copy of a police report after a fender-bender? Want to research the sale prices of homes in your neighborhood? How about getting a copy of a will or marriage license? Access to all these useful documents is protected under the law.

    In the meantime, we'll do our part to reinforce the importance of open government by letting you know when public records are being used in news stories. When information has been requested but not delivered in a timely fashion, we'll say so, too.

    All of us have a right to see the public's business conducted in the open. Our liberties will not be secure unless we protect our right to know.

Being the lovers of freedom that we are, I will hazard a guess that many of the points made in this article will ring true with gun owners, as will this quote from one of our Founding Fathers, republished in the Stewart editorial:

    "The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them ... To cover with the veil of secrecy the common routine of business is an abomination in the eyes of every intelligent man.''-- Patrick Henry

Before you CHL-holders feel guilty for saying "Amen to that", keep in mind that there is one key difference between the types of information mentioned in Stewart's editorial and the CHL information which has put so many gun owners at odds with the media:

The Founding Fathers never imagined a day when the government would be issuing licenses to citizens in order for them to exercise their right to bear arms for self-defense.

Should citizens be able to know where their tax dollars are being spent? Absolutely. Should the media be able to investigate rumors of abuses of power? Of course! But the case has still never been made by which there is any public good that can or has come from publicizing the names of Ohioans who have done nothing but seek to exercise their God-given, Constitutionally-recognized right to bear arms for self-defense.

The simple fact is that information concerning which law-abiding citizens do or do not choose to carry does not belong with the government in the first place. In the states of Vermont and Alaska, citizens may choose to carry a concealed handgun without any government intervention.

Having already compromised on a licensure-scheme in Ohio, CHL-holders should not also be subjected to having information which shouldn't even be government-controlled in the first place then also become public record.

As reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the state of Kentucky seems to have figured this out:

    Kentucky was years ahead of Ohio in adopting a concealed-carry law. Now Kentucky lawmakers not only exempted concealed-carry permit holders from the state open-records laws - and barred law officers from seizing their weapons or ammunition during disasters like Katrina - but House Bill 290 also allows workers to keep firearms in their vehicles on their employer's premises.

    A second bill (Senate Bill 38), sponsored by Northern Kentucky Republicans Sen. Damon Thayer and Rep. Dick Roeding, says Kentuckians no longer have a duty to retreat first when faced with a home intruder or carjacker. The so-called "castle doctrine" says you can use deadly force at the outset if you believe you are threatened with death or serious bodily harm. The law attempts to remove fear of prosecution.

Much like the issue of open records, the subject of whether or not employers should be able to regulate citizens' possession of concealed firearms on private property (such as a parking lot) can be a thorny issue for gun owners typically on the side of a strict recognition of property rights. But just as no person should have their private choice to exercise a Constitutional right considered a public record, so too should no property owner be able to infringe on an individuals' right to self-defense.

Kentucky is far from the first among states who are passing laws which restore the castle doctrine and protect gun owners' personal information that should be private. Vehicles for making these important concepts law in Ohio exist in the form of and amendment to House Bill 9, a media-endorsed open records bill, and House Bill 541, Rep. Steve Buehrer's 'castle doctrine' bill.

URGENT: Click here to write your elected officials about these crucial pieces of legislation.

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