Columbus Dispatch the latest to editorialize against gun bill(s)

Columbus Dispatch is the latest participant in the Ohio establishment media's coordinated editorial attack on the issue of open records and concealed handgun licenses. Dispatch editorial commentary appears in black font, with Buckeye Firearms Association's Chad Baus responding in scarlet.

August 21, 2006
Columbus Dispatch

The law that allows Ohioans to carry concealed weapons was supposed to ensure that permits wouldn’t be issued to people who have committed certain crimes or are mentally ill or dependent on drugs or alcohol. But the General Assembly included so many restrictions on information about who holds conceal-carry permits that no one can judge whether the law is being followed.

The statute should be changed to allow the public to see how it’s working.

The Dispatch editors' suggestion that the public cannot already see how the program is working is ludicrous. Apparently the fact that more than 99% of licensees have proven to be law-abiding, and that many of the small fraction of a percent of licenses were suspended or revoked for reasons such as the license-holder moving out of state or dying just isn't enough for these self-appointed watch-dogs, who are hoping beyond hope to find one bad apple among the miniscule few revocations with which they can tarnish the other 75,000-plus law-abiding Ohioans.

The information blind spot was revealed most recently when state officials refused The Dispatch’s request for copies of letters sent to people whose conceal-carry licenses were suspended or revoked.

I find it hard to believe Dispatch editors are only now becoming aware of the limits to their ability to pry into the personal lives of gun owners.

What the Dispatch has revealed here is that sheriffs did their jobs by refusing to bend to a Dispatch request for protected information - something that sheriffs in Shelby and Lucas county failed to do when they were asked for protected information (Shelby Co.), or asked in an improper way (Lucas Co.), in 2004.

Knowing who has tried to get a license or who has obtained one, including those ruled ineligible, is in the legitimate public interest.

But the legislature and county sheriffs have stood in the way of public access to this important information.

The media has yet to show any "public good" from printing licensees' names, nor has it ever used the information it already has access to for any of the "public good" they claimed they needed the access for. The Dispatch and the gun ban extremists they are sympathetic to have failed to show why a program that is resulting in so few suspensions (0.53%) or revocations (0.29%) is in need of deeper scrutiny. There can be no doubt that if there had been major issues behind these revocations, the Dispatch would have sought to make the individuals involved in the incidents household names. The types of problems they predicted simply did not happen. And thus they want to look for such a scape-goat amongst the short list of revoked licenses.

The fact that so few licenses have been revoked for any reason makes a strong case for the excellent job the Ohio Sheriff’s are doing in issuing licenses to law-abiding citizens and weeding out those that are not qualified. In the days leading up to passage of Ohio's concealed handgun law, the Dispatch and other media elites cried that the public was in danger if they did not have access to the name, age, county, and type of license issued. This proves the predictions of the media elitists wrong. Ohio's highest law-enforcement officials, our 88 county sheriffs, don’t need the media standing over their shoulder to make sure “only the right people are issued a license”.

Only after pressure from open-records advocates did legislators finally agree to add provisions to the law to make the names of license-holders available to journalists. But the law kept information about denied or revoked permits off-limits.

All of this information should be available to anyone who asks, not just reporters.

As Buckeye Firearms Association Chairman Jim Irvine recently pointed out in response to a similar editorial in the Lorain Morning Journal, the editors "want [readers] to think that every revocation is for some serious crime.

"The paper fails to note that licenses are revoked for benign reasons like a license-holder moving out of state or passing away.

"They also fail to mention that many of the suspended licenses are reinstated. There are many reasons a license may be suspended ranging from paperwork errors or omissions to a criminal charge. These are reinstated after the issue is resolved, or revoked if it is not.

There have been several licenses suspended because law enforcement did not understand the law. Once these issues are worked out, the license is reinstated.

"Further is seems that editors...are only concerned with gun licenses. They are uninterested in reporting all the reasons a driver's license is suspended (7.15% in 2005!). Neither have they taken interest in revocations of medical licenses, or real estate licenses, or business licenses, all of which are revoked at rates far in excess of concealed handgun licenses.

Some lawmakers in the House, however, tried to undo even this modest requirement in March with an amendment – to an open-records bill, of all things – that would have allowed new applicants for conceal-carry licenses to opt out of any disclosure of their names.

Another House amendment would have changed the gun law to eliminate the requirement that motorists, while driving with a gun in the car, either keep it in plain sight or have it in a locked container.

Gov. Bob Taft has threatened to veto the bill if those two offending provisions aren’t removed by the Senate, where the bill languishes with a lot of other summer-recess unfinished business.

When it comes to keeping gun legislation and gubernatorial veto-threats straight, the editorial board's fact-checker isn't making a very strong case for journalistic integrity.

There is no such amendment to HB9, which the Dispatch refers to as the "open-records bill", which would change how licensees may carry firearms in motor vehicles. The ONLY firearms-related amendment to HB9 would seek simply to allow CHL-holders the same right to protect their identities that drivers license-holders are already provided under Federal law.

Neither the Dispatch nor Governor Taft have offered any reason why they believe allowing a battered woman the chance to prevent the release of her personally identifying information to the media is a bad thing. Or a family who has moved 3 times in 5 years in fear of a stalker? Or any other person who has fear of criminal profiling? The House apparently couldn't think of a good reason either, and thus passed the bill, amendment included, by an overwhelming 93-1 margin.

The bill should be taken up again, because its primary purpose – requiring that public officials be trained in their responsibilities under Ohio’s open-records laws – is important.

When the Senate reconvenes, members should eliminate the ill-advised gun-related amendments the House tacked on.

Senators should honor the bill’s original open-records intent and add a provision making information about conceal-carry applications – those that are approved and those that are denied or later revoked – available to everyone.

To repeat - the Dispatch and its accomplices at the Ohio Newspaper Association, who are no-doubt behind the latest coordinated effort to editorialize on this issue, have failed in every way to utilize the information they currently have in a way that benefits the public good. They have also failed to prove in any way why additional information is necessary.

But speaking of a bill's "original intent", perhaps the Dispatch would care to opine on the original intent of HB12, the bill which became Ohio's concealed handgun license law after Bob Taft shoved in the Media Access Loophole at the request of the ONA.

"If they abuse the privilege, we can cause them to lose the privilege," declared bill sponsor Rep. Jim Aslanides, pointing out that the Pennsylvania Legislature struck a similar provision after a newspaper published a list of permit holders.

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.

"I don't think we need to worry about journalists doing their job," state Sen. Marc Dann, a Youngstown area Democrat, told Mr. Aslanides at the time. Mr. Dann is now a candidate for state Attorney General.

In summary, as Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Chair Ken Hanson wrote recently, "'accountability' is a red herring. This is really about the news media of Ohio anointing themselves the sole judges of what is good for public records in Ohio, and they cannot stand the fact that people disagree with them. The Ohio Supreme Court has just ruled that news media cannot obtain the home addresses of public employees, and allowing people with cause to fear attack on themselves to remain in hiding is just another logical step in making our public records laws reflect what was intended by the people.

"It is the people, not the unelected media, that determine what is best for society."

Buckeye Firearms Association continues to call on legislators to pass amended HB9 in its current form, to stop the media from harassing law-abiding gun owners and to protect license-holders' privacy, much as Federal law protects drivers' license-holders.

We are also anxious to see the Senate take up HB347, which also passed the House in an overwhelming bi-partisan fashion (76-19). This is the legislation that the Dispatch editors apparently confused with HB9. The legislation would indeed remove the ridiculous "plain sight" provision from Ohio's concealed handgun law, as well as enact a statewide preemption of gun laws (an idea, noteably, endorsed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer).

Related Stories: Columbus Dispatch Poll: 2/3 of Ohioans believe others have too much info about them

State agency moves to further protect (criminals') privacy

Double-standard: Privacy a right for everyone but law-abiding gun owners

Dispatch: 140+ years of anti-self-defense rhetoric

Dispatch Editors on gun bill: Facts vs. Rhetoric (yet again)

Dispatch Ignores Evidence in Concealed Carry Debate

Anti-Gun Columbus Dispatch Rears Ugly Head - Shows True Colors Again

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