Columbus Dispatch editorial: Amend law on conceal-carry records

By Chad D. Baus

When Ohio House Bill 9 was signed into law, the media gave it surprisingly little attention (especially given how hard the media pushed for the open records bill for the past two years). But now that a provision modifying how Ohio's sheriffs are to handle the confidential records of concealed handgun licenseholders is about to take effect, the editorial boards are beginning to give it much more attention.

Commentary by Buckeye Firearms Association's Chad Baus is in crimson.

Idea misfires: Pending law on conceal-carry records is confusing and should be amended

Columbus Dispatch
September 11, 2007

The compromises needed to pass bills sometimes lead to laws that are
little more than legal mush. Such is the case with Ohio's law
regarding access to data on conceal-carry permit-holders, which takes
effect Sept. 29.

The provision, written during the General Assembly's end-of-2006 lame-
duck session, was a compromise between lawmakers enthralled by the
National Rifle Association's political influence and those who
believe, correctly, that the records should be available to the public.

Note the omission of the fact that the law specifically states the records are confidential, and not public records. That's right - the law says the records are CONFIDENTIAL. That's because the people, by and through their elected officials, have determined, as a matter of law, that these lists are not public records and the release of these lists is not in the public interest. As Buckeye Firearms Association Legislative Chair Ken Hanson recently pointed out, "this is not some administrative agency trying to shield their meetings or who they meet with. It's not some bureaucrat trying to hide the fact he gave a no-bid contract to his brother-in-law, and it's not a renegade school board member trying to change curriculum… The people, by and through their elected representatives, made a decision. Those who exercise a right, like praying, writing an idiotic editorial or obtaining an abortion, are not required to face public scrutiny. These are not public records, and their release is not in the public interest. So Sayeth The People."

The Dispatch no doubt buys into the argument that ALL government information should be public, and appears to support the idea that government shouldn’t be able to keep some information private. But as Hanson writes, "this argument is a red herring, designed to mask an anti-gun political agenda that involves targeting citizens who have a legal concealed handgun license (CHL) by publishing their name, age, and county of residence."

"Government makes decisions all the time to keep government information private if there is a chance that publishing that information could harm citizens. For example, a Social Security Number is government information, but it is kept private to avoid identity theft. Those who have obtained a restraining order from a government entity, such as a court, are not subjected to having a new address or phone number published in order to protect the victim."

"The argument for open government records is the public’s 'need to know.' But the public has no 'need to know' when it comes to legally concealed weapons by law abiding citizens. And since there is a precedent for protecting citizens by keeping certain information private, there is no reason to publish this information in a newspaper."

The result is a mess that even the head of the Buckeye State Sheriffs'
Association can't figure out. Bob Cornwell, the association's
executive director, said simply, "It doesn't make sense." That's a
telling statement, as the state's 88 sheriffs are custodians of data
on Ohioans who are authorized to carry concealed firearms.

Actually, it seems Cornwell has it figured out alright. He also told The Dispatch "You can't come in with any kind of a tape recorder. You can't take notes and write the names down. You can't do anything, because it only allows you to view the information." Saying "it doesn't make sense" is likely an indicator of the BSSA's official position on this issue, which is that the records should remain confidential and unavailable to journalists and the rest of the public.

The current law on conceal-carry data is flawed, but it's better than
what's coming in 18 days. The original law allows journalists, but not
the general public, to review the registries, which include the names,
ages and counties of permit-holders, and copying the records is
permitted. The pending law allows no copies, and officials disagree on
whether this prohibition actually bans reporters from jotting down the
names in notebooks.

"Officials" may disagree, but there is a long-held, clearly established framework for interpreting the law which says that words are to be given their plain English, every day meanings in interpreting statutes.

In this case, the General Assembly used easy to understand words. “View” means just that, view, inspect, review i.e. they may read the record. “Copy” is similarly easy to understand. In the context of § 2923.129(B)(2), “copy” is used as a verb. Turning to the dictionary, the verb usage of “copy” is synonymous “reproduce.” In other areas of the Revised Code, when specific forms of “copy” were intended, modifiers were added to “copy” such as: “transcribed copy” “exact copy” “written copy” etc. In this case, just the general form of “copy” was used, which clearly indicates that all forms of reproduction were intended to be included. Some examples of “copy” that would qualify as reproduction would be: photograph of a record, photocopy of a record, hand copying the list, videotape of a record, orally reading a record into a recording device such as a tape recorder, cell phone, mp3 player etc.

Former Gov. Bob Taft was right when he argued that the process should
be open to ensure the greatest measure of accountability, which always
is in the public interest. Hidden records invite trouble, because they
make it impossible for anyone to determine whether sheriffs are
handing out permits lawfully. Taft's veto threats helped make sure
that conceal-carry information wasn't sealed completely from Ohioans.

Still, some permit-holders cling to the fallacy that having their
names revealed puts them at risk. That absurd reasoning is based on
the notion that criminals would deliberately victimize households of
people who carry concealed arms and are trained to use them. But
several newspapers have published the names of permit-holders, and no
one has offered an example of a criminal using that list to target a
permit-holder. If anything, a criminal would avoid targeting a permit-
holder, for obvious reasons.

Is it just me, or is it the definition of "absurd reasoning" to expect that criminal busted for, oh, say, stealing 20 guns from a home in broad daylight or stealing 2 machine guns and ammo from a collector's home is going to admit how he knew where to find the loot?

The media has been accusing privacy advocates of "absurd reasoning" when arguing that criminals will use newspapers for target selection, despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary. Buckeye Firearms Association has documented criminals using Ohio newspapers to select victims for rape, others for armed robbery, as well as criminals who used the Internet to pre-plan a gun store robbery. If a criminal who wants to steal sex is smart enough to use the newspaper, and a criminal who wants to steal a video game is smart enough to use the newspaper, isn't it instead "absurd reasoning" to believe that criminals who want to steal a gun wouldn't also use the newspaper?

Before any further scoffing at this potential, Dispatch editors should read Ken Hanson's "What is the harm in publishing lists of concealed handgun license holders?", in which Hanson has prepared an example by using Sandusky Register Editor Matt H. Westerhold.

But the weakness of this argument didn't keep Gov. Ted Strickland, who
boasts of his NRA support, from using it to support a new law that
works against accountability. He should know better.

It is ironic indeed to read as the Dispatch pine away for one of the least popular governors in state history (a Republican, no less). Ironic as well is the Dispatch's failure to mention that Strickland, a Democrat, has said he would sign a bill that eliminates the journalists' access to these confidential records altogether, pointing to the "possibility that criminals could obtain that information, and with that knowledge, seek to do harm to an individual."

The solution is simple: Open the files to the public the same as all public records.

Or perhaps, since these records are not, by statute, "public records", the solution is even more simple: treat them like we do all other confidential records - and remove the prying eyes of the elitist, anti-gun media, who have yet to use the privilege of access to the records for the purposes they have repeatedly claimed.

Related Story: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (Who will guard the guardians?)

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