Strike Two: Another PD editor tries to justify discriminatory actions

Those who catch the headline of Phillip Morris' latest column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer may gain the impression that at least one member of the editorial board is coming to understand how damaging its decision to publish the names of concealed handgun license-holders has been. Some may believe it is evidence that the paper has been asking itself what role it played in the death of Bill Singleton.

But as deeper into Associate Editor Phillip Morris' column, it becomes quickly apparent that any such pangs of guilt are resulting in the production of spin in the Plain Dealer editorial room that would make Bill Clinton proud.

OFCC's Chad Baus responds in blue:

August 10, 2004
Cleveland Plain Dealer

CCW permit listings hurt the innocent

Steve is a gun enthusiast, and he watched closely as the concealed-carry debate dominated the Ohio General Assembly for years.

Finally, this past session, a law was passed giving Ohioans the right to carry concealed handguns in public.

The law, a long-overdue correction of Ohio's ambiguous and poorly constructed "affirmative defense," which made a criminal out of anyone who carried a handgun - regardless of the reason - was cheered by Steve and thousands of other Ohioans who believe that the state and federal constitutions mean what they say about the right to bear arms.

It was a victory for the good guys - guys like Bill Singleton, 59, a Cleveland merchant who was shot and killed Tuesday morning outside of his Collinwood check-cashing store, but not before he performed a public service by killing one of his assailants. That assailant was Rhyan Ikner, 17, a violent and habitual delinquent who was arrested in March on aggravated robbery charges.

Absent from Morris' mention of the brutal ambush of "good guy" Bill Singleton is any attention to the question of whether or not his attackers knew he was armed, perhaps due to his being named in the Plain Dealer just days before.

And it was a victory for law-abiding people who felt the need to carry a gun and wanted the right to defend their lives with deadly force, if needed.

But Steve, an engineer, hasn't raced out to apply for a permit to carry one of his weapons. In fact, he's bitter about the way the CCW ordeal has played out. He has decided that the law is not worth the paper it's printed on.

He has decided he would rather remain unarmed than to subject himself to having his name printed as a permit holder in Ohio's largest daily newspaper.

80% of persons responding to an online poll at believe that the Plain Dealer has published these names for this very reason - out of a hope to deter people from obtaining licenses. If they're right, Morris' opening comments could be paraphrased as "mission accomplished."

Steve is mad at The Plain Dealer. I feel his angst. A private man with a strong libertarian bent, Steve, a skilled martial artist who can easily defend himself without a weapon, believes the point of the permit is to give the law-abiding citizens the same edge that the armed criminal currently possesses - the element of surprise.

Violent thugs who tote guns, like the deceased Ikner and thousands of others like him, are hardly concerned with seeking permits and then being identified as people who carry weapons in public. They carry guns secretly because that gives them the edge on the street and allows them to bully, rob or kill with greater efficiency.

Why should the law-abiding be denied the same edge, Steve asked me last week. Why should they be singled out? Why should criminals, especially gun thieves, be given a cheat sheet on where to go "shopping" for weapons? Why should battered wives or stalked women be identified as having taken steps to defend themselves?

Apparently, Morris feels Steve's angst about like Bill Clinton felt our pain, as the rest of his column will continue to argue for legislation making it even easier for the destruction of the element of surprise.

I don't have convincing counters to those questions. Perhaps it's because I agree with him. But his anger, with its focus on The Plain Dealer and the other large newspapers around the state that have recently published the names of people who have received CCW permits, is misplaced.

Instead of blaming the newspapers, Steve's anger should be directed at the legislators who passed the law that made the permit process secret to everyone but the news media, and at Gov. Bob Taft, who signed it.

By doing so, the governor and the legislature insulted the 99.999 percent of Ohioans who don't have press credentials.

The irony, of course, is the names probably would not have been published if lawmakers had not gone out of their way to shield the identities of those who received permits. The state issues hundreds of permits and licenses. But with the notable exception of freshly minted lawyers, when was the last time you saw newspapers run the names of those who were licensed for anything?

Morris deserves respect for at least admitting he cannot defend his employers' discrimination against law-abiding citizens, even suggesting that he may agree that these people do not deserve to be singled out.

But in trying to shift blame away from himself and his newspaper, Morris had better be careful: there may be an outcry from the international community about how he has tortured logic.

Let's get see if we can figure Morris' arguments out with a little history lesson:

  • The General Assembly expresses its desire to protect the identity of license-holders, and sends a bill to Governor Taft that does so.
  • Taft, utilizing his usual decision-making method, sticks his finger in the wind, feels the hot air blowing from the Ohio Newspaper Association, and threatens veto unless the General Assembly opens the makes the names of licensees available to the public. Taft argues the media can act as a check and a balance to ensure licenses aren't being issued by sheriffs to the "wrong" people. Many surmise Taft believed this latest poison pill would finally kill HB12, which had been rescucitated after despite repeated attempts to kill it.
  • The General Assembly calls Taft's bluff, revising the privacy provision to allow an exception for the media. Under intense pressure to fulfill a years-old campaign promise, Taft agrees to the compromise.
  • Upon passage, leaders in both the House and Senate express the belief that any publishing of entire lists of CHL-holders would be considered an abuse of the media exception, and would result in a move to eliminate the exception.
  • Five newspapers in the state deliberately ignore the will of the legislature, and publish names - the largest is the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Days after one of those listed in the Cleveland paper is ambushed and killed, sparking questions of whether the criminals knew their 59 year-old target was armed, an associate editor of tries to argue the paper just can't help itself (despite the fact that countless other media outlets in Ohio HAVE been able to), and that the blame really belongs with those who gave them the access in the first place.

    By trying to keep secret the identities of Ohioans who received permits, the state needlessly passed a terribly flawed measure and ensured that the Fourth Estate would do its job and perform the public service expected of a constitutionally protected free press.

    Drivers' license and license plate data has been protected by Federal law since the mid-1990's, after a stalker used such public information to track down actress Rebecca Schaefer and murder her.

    Infinitely more innocent people are killed every year by licensed drivers than by licensed firearms carriers. Why isn't the Plain Dealer concerned about this restriction of public records? If it's all about public safety, why hasn't the Plain Dealer sought to find and exploit loopholes in that restriction?

    The legislature should revisit the CCW law and remove any open record restrictions on permit holders. That way, newspapers probably would stop publishing the names of permit holders, people like Steve would no longer be singled out any more than a person who decides to buy a fishing license, and gun thieves would no longer be able to buy a newspaper to find out who is packing heat.

    But most importantly, the legislature should fix this flawed law to make a public record exactly what it should be - available to all the public, not just a small part of it.

    Morris is an associate editor of The Plain Dealer's editorial pages.

    Contact him at:
    [email protected], 216-999-4070

    So now we come full circle. Morris believes the solution to the "hurt" that the "innocent" experience by "CCW listings" is to make the data even more easily accessible to more people.

    Had he lived in the 1800's, would Morris (an African American) have similarly argued for nationwide legalization of slavery as a means of solving the hurt caused by slavery in the South? Would he have argued, in the 1960's, that the way to destroy the hurt caused by Southern discrimination against innocent black Americans segregated on busses, and in restaurants, schools bathrooms, etc., was to extend the practice of segregation throughout the country? Of course not.

    The Plain Dealer editors' well-documented bias against concealed carry has clouded their judgement on this matter, and no amount of spin can disguise the truth: the correct solution to the media's abuse of the exception to privacy is for the legislature to remove the exception. Only this solution can truly prevent the innocent from being hurt.

    Related Stories:
    Days after Plain Dealer ''outing''; CHL-holder Bill Singleton is dead

    Cleveland Plain Dealer fulfills promise to violate privacy of CHL-holders

    Taft supports not ''stigmatizing'' ex-cons; insisted on stigmatizing CHL-holders

    Letter to the Editor: Should we publish lists of HIV-infected persons?

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