Sen. Joe Uecker introduces legislation to close media access loophole

by Chad D. Baus

The Dayton Daily News is reporting that Ohio Senator Joe Uecker (R) has introduced Senate Bill 60, legislation that would close the media access loophole that currently allows journalists to view the private, personal information of persons who have obtained a license to carry a concealed handgun from the State of Ohio.

From the article:

Bill sponsor Ohio Sen. Joe Uecker and Dayton-area Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said they were inspired by a New York newspaper's recent decision to publish the names and addresses of gun-permit holders in three counties there.

"I don't think it was proper," Beagle said. "If the only way to prevent that is through legislation, then that's legislation I'm interested in supporting."

The proposed law would remove the exemption that allows journalists to to view, but not take notes or copy, records of gun permit holders, kept by county sheriffs' offices.

As the law stands, publishing a list of carrying a concealed weapon (CCW) permit holders in Ohio would be impossible, said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association.

Even so, Beagle questioned why the information is accessible at all.

"I'm not sure there's any public policy interest in whether or not an individual has a concealed carry license," he said.

Uecker also cited a June 2011 Hamilton JournalNews story about elected officials in Butler County who held concealed-carry permits. Information was gathered for that story under the existing law.

Later in the article, Buckeye Firearms Association's Gerard Valentino is quoted as saying that "the problem is too many people in the media are anti-gun, and they will use that information negatively. And that's why we have to protect licenses from the media."

Since the day Ohio first passed a concealed carry law in 2004, state law has always considered the private, personal information about license-holders to be confidential - not a public record. From O.R.C. § 2923.129 (B) (1):

    "The records that a sheriff keeps relative to [concealed handgun licenses] ARE CONFIDENTIAL AND ARE NOT PUBLIC RECORDS." (emphasis added)

Unfortunately, then Governor Bob Taft succeeded in inserting a loophole that gave the media access to the list of license-holders. As he had been warned, news outlets including The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Elyria Chronicle-Telegram and Warren Tribune-Chronicle quickly began abusing the privilege of having access to the list by obtaining and publishing entire lists of license-holders. In one case, a sheriff in Shelby County even released information to the that was forbidden at the time. Despite the fact that illegal release of confidential concealed handgun license records is a felony of the fifth degree, then-Miami County Prosecuting Attorney Gary Nasal spent eight months "investigating" the incident, only to refuse to indict the sheriff.

In late 2006, the General Assembly passed HB9, which modified the media access loophole to prohibit journalists from copying the records. As originally passed by the House (by a 93-1 vote!), HB9 contained contained language which would have to allowed people with CHLs to completely protect their private, personal information from the media. Sadly, the language was stripped out by Republicans in the Ohio Senate and replaced with the watered-down "view but not copy" modification, which eventually became law, and which we warned at the time was not going to be enough to prevent anti-gun newspapers from obtaining and publishing the names of license-holders.

Before the law went into effect, Sandusky Register editor Matt Westerhold made one last grab of the list and published it. In response, Buckeye Firearms Association utilized Westerhold's own truly public records to demonstrate just how easy it is for someone with a grudge to abuse them.

Even after the modification took effect, and at the encouragement of the Ohio Newspaper Association, journalists' attempted to argue over what the word "copy" actually means. The Ohio Attorney General's Office was asked to weigh in, and in late 2007 issued an opinion finding that journalists cannot photo-copy, photograph, dictate, or otherwise jot down the permit holders' personal information.

While no complete list has since been published, journalists continue to abuse the loophole that provides access to these private records. In 2011, The Middletown Journal published a list of elected officials in the Buckeye State who have obtained concealed handgun licenses.

Following that incident, then-Rep. Uecker introduced a bill that would have required journalists to obtain a court order to view information on concealed carry licensees. That bill was not given a serious look by Uecker's caucus, and it died at the end of the last General Assembly. We certainly hope that, in the wake of the abuses in New York, which law enforcement officials have said may have led to the theft of firearms from people's homes, the Republican caucus in the Senate will give this bill the attention it deserves.

Click here to read SB60 in its entirety.

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

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