Cleveland CHL-holder defends lives; Plain Dealer mum

By Chad D. Baus

In late 2003, when it became clear that the Ohio General Assembly was preparing to send a concealed carry reform bill to the governor's desk, Bob Taft and his anti-gun allies at the Ohio Newspaper Association interjected an eleventh-hour attempt to stall the bill by objecting to the Assembly's intent to protect the privacy of concealed handgun license-holders.

ONA member newspapers argued that "knowing who has tried to get a license or who has obtained one... is in the legitimate public interest." Taft announced he would veto the bill as it was written, alleging that Ohioans have a "right to know whether their friends, enemies or neighbors have a license to carry a concealed weapon." The Cleveland Plain Dealer praised Taft for his decision.

The Ohio General Assembly disagreed about any alleged "right to know", but in order to avoid a Taft veto, legislators inserted a provision which allowed journalists to have access to the records, but that continued to protect license-holders' private information from the general public. This provision, which has come to be known as the media access loophole, became Ohio law at the same time as HB12 restored the Constitutionally-protected right to bear arms for self-defense.

In a fit of rage, the Plain Dealer editorial board argued that the compromise wasn't good enough. "Our readers deserve to know the identities of those who obtain permits to carry their guns in public", the editors ranted. The legislature, they whined, was "demonstrating a flagrant disregard for the public's right to know," and therefore they announced that it was "[the Plain Dealer's] intention to obtain this information and publish it."

Since Plain Dealer editors believe so vehemently that Ohioans have a "right to know" their neighbors' self-defense choices and private, personal information, and since they feel so strongly that an individuals' status as a CHL-holder is a legitimate public interest, and, one would certainly expect that when a Cleveland CHL-holder and business-owner uses his firearm to defend himself and his patrons, that the newspaper would see such an event as newsworthy, right?

WRONG.

Last week, two Cleveland television stations covered news that Cleveland barber Ray Williams had acted on the evening of November 22 to protect his business and customers from an armed robber in the process of stealing wallets and jewelry.

Cleveland's WKYC.com filed a report early the next morning, confirming that Williams was a CHL-holder:

    A 47-year-old male entered the barbershop located near East 124th and Buckeye Road in Cleveland.

    The male robbed the store and the patrons inside taking cash, jewelry, and other valuables.

    The store owner, who has a concealed weapons permit, pulled out his handgun shooting at the robber. The suspect was struck in the elbow.

    The robber dropped his weapon and fled.

    A short time later, police located the male and took him into custody.

    The male was taken to Huron Hospital where he is being treated for his gunshot wound.

Williams himself recounted the events of that night to NewsNet5, which originally broke the story:

    "Guy came in with a ski mask and a gun and told everybody to give him their money and their wallets and jewelry, watches," Williams said. "As soon as he turned his head, you know what I'm saying, I just pulled out my gun and started firing."

    ... Reports say the suspect is a 47-year-old Cleveland man who is being treated for his gunshot wound at Huron Road Hospital.

While NewsNet5 did not specifically mention Williams' status as a CHL-holder in their report, they deserve credit for being the first to cover the story, and for reporting that police said they "hope Williams' action sent a message to other robbers."

Given that this was one of the first known incidents of a CHL-holder defending themselves in Cleveland, I was eager to read the Plain Dealer's coverage of the incident. The November 23 issue, however, mentioned nothing. Recognizing that this event happened late on Nov. 22, and that the newspaper format provides for delayed news coverage, I decided to give the newspaper another day. Surely they would cover the story, since indeed, even Cleveland police had expressed that there was a legitimate public interest in making sure as many people (specifically, would-be robbers) heard about the story.

Friday came, and went. Saturday too. Then Sunday. In fact, a full week has passed, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer has not uttered a word. In avoiding the story, the Plain Dealer has not served the legitimate public interest in deterring other criminals, nor has the story been used as an example of how the law is "working correctly".

On the other hand, the Plain Dealer has found time to publish the following in the days since Mr. Williams' defense of his life:

  • 2 teen boys wounded in Cleveland shootings
  • 14-year-old shot while walking home
  • Cartoonist with toy gun disrupts paper
  • Local boy held in Akron cabbie's slaying
  • Cleveland teenager indicted in shooting

    The bottom line is that the Cleveland Plain Dealer has plenty of space for examples of where guns are used improperly (and in violation of numerous gun control laws), and plenty of time to devote to publishing the private, personal information of CHL-holders who have committed no crime, but has not a single drop of ink to spare for a story on another successful use of a concealed handgun for the protection of innocent life.

    It is time for the Ohio Senate to ignore the disingenuous arguments from Bob Taft and the Cleveland Plain Dealer and refuse to remove language in House Bill 9 that would close media access to some CHL personal information. While the best solution would be to remove all media access to personal information, and to require the purging of all licensee databases, this bill will at least allow those victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and others who are at risk to sign affidavits that would protect their information.

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

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