Sandusky Register's error-filled list of CHL-holders' private info

By Chad D. Baus & Jim Irvine

As if declaring war on gun ownership by publishing the private, confidential information of more than 2,700 Ohio concealed handgun license (CHL) holders wasn't bad enough, an investigation by the Buckeye Firearms Association has confirmed that the Sandusky Register has another problem - the newspaper's database contains false information!

When Ohio's concealed carry law was passed by the legislators, it was never conceived or designed to have a central or regional records management function for CHL records, which are considered confidential under Ohio law.

With truly public records, the records management function is usually overseen by a records or registrar's office. The purpose of this office is to manage the additions, changes, deletions, modifications, printing, and distribution of these official records, lists, and reports. Another important role for this office is to accept responsibility and accountability for the integrity of the records it manages. This role becomes especially critical when information is made available on the internet.

The problem with newspapers taking on the role of being a de facto registrar of CHL records is that they are doing the distributing of information on the World Wide Web part, but aren't accepting any of the maintaining, responsibility or accountability part. In other words, newspapers are taking no responsibility for the accuracy of the information they maintain and make available!

There are three components to each private record obtained by the media that could potentially generate an error; county, name, and age. If I received my CHL in Ottawa County and next month moved my residence to Adams County, the information on the Sandusky Register's website is no longer accurate. The information is no longer synchronized and, judging by the lists of CHL-holders currently posted at various newspaper websites, nobody at the newspaper is responsible to correct it.

Due to newspapers' inability to perform the necessary central records management function, the lists of CHL-holders they are maintaining, whether posted on their websites or just maintained internally for reference when writing stories, is becoming more and more erroneous over time.

In cases where the confidential information has been published on the Internet, it has the potential to follow a person long after the information is no longer valid. For example, assume that Jane Doe was issued an Ohio CHL in 2007 in Seneca County, and the Sandusky Register published that confidential information on its website. In 2008, Jane decides to move to California, and turns in her Ohio CHL, which will no longer be valid when she becomes an out-of-state resident. Upon arriving in California, Jane begins applying for employment, but because The Register continues to maintain a list of CHL-holders from 2007 on its website, Jane's name keeps turning up as a gun owner during internet searches conducted by potential employers, and Jane can't even get an interview. (Before anyone tries to convince themselves that potential employers would not discriminate against gun owners, consider that 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.)

Buckeye Firearms Association can now report that it won't take the passage of time for The Register's list of CHL-holders to become erroneous - thanks to carelessness on the part of the newspaper, the list of CHL-holders contained erroneous information from the moment it was first published!

Shortly after The Register published these confidential records, Buckeye Firearms volunteers began spot checking the list for accuracy. The Sheriff's offices were able to confirm that they had supplied correct information to the newspaper, and the paper published wrong information, which continues to be available to the public on the Internet at

Without having the accurate list of CHL-holders to compare to, it is impossible to know how many times the newspaper published false information, but judging by the rate of error determined by our investigation, the number of errors could be in the hundreds.

This is not the first time a newspaper has published false information when attempting to "out" CHL-holders. In March of 2007, the Cybercast News Service reported that Virginia's Roanoke Times had irked gun owners by publishing a list of that state's concealed carry licensees, along with the obligatory editorial comparison of gun owners to sex offenders.

Just one day later, the Times pulled the list after discovering that the list "include[d] names that should not have been released" (One concern was that the list had violated a state law against identifying crime victims. Further, our friends at the Virginial Citizens Defense League reported that the paper had listed the home address of the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court). The Times pulled the list "out of a sense of caution and concern for the public", and later announced that it would not repost the list on its website.

The Sandusky Register's problems are even more substantial than those which forced the Times to remove the list in Virginia. Their list contains personal (and legally confidential) information that is absolutely, provably false. This is especially ironic, considering that one of the main reasons the media has insisted on having access to these records was because they weren't confident that the Sheriff's office would do their job properly.

Consider the words of Register editor Matt Westerhold (taken from an editorial that included his own utilization of the offensive comparison of CHL-holders to child rapists):

  1. "What could be more important than arresting child rapists? If the sheriff can’t prioritize that, why would anyone believe he can properly administer a gun program? Access to public records provides the opportunity for that review."

Given that the job of a newspaper is to provide accurate news, the number of errors in this one piece indicates that Editor Westerhold should spend some time learning how to do his own job before he criticizes the jobs other people are doing. While no one is perfect, there is strong evidence the Sheriff's offices are trying to do a good job with processing CHL records. There is similarly strong evidence to suggest that The Register is doing anything but.

As readers will recall from a previous story about the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics states that journalists should:


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