WESTERHOLD: It's about the secrets, not about the gun owners

This is a battle the Register never sought, but would have been irresponsible to have ducked. Now, the National Rifle Associ
Matt Westerhold
May 24, 2010

 

This is a battle the Register never sought, but would have been irresponsible to have ducked.

Now, the National Rifle Association and the Ohio Concealed Carry group have begun an organized campaign to harass the newspaper’s advertisers because the Register took a stand against government secrecy.

The Ohio law exempts all information about the program from the public record and only journalists are allowed to see the names of residents who have been granted licenses to carry concealed weapons.

On Sunday, the Register posted the name, age and county of residence for each of the nearly 2,700 area residents who have been granted a concealed handgun license.

These are citizens whom sheriffs in each of the five counties of the Register’s circulation area deemed to be law-abiding and upstanding. They went through a firearms training program and passed criminal background checks.

They should be proud to be exercising their second amendment rights, and I believe most of them aren’t as enraged with the Register’s decision to exercise its first amendment rights in publishing the information as is the NRA, which demands secrecy.

We posted the information as a public service to readers who want to know who among them has been licensed to carry concealed weapons. The lists have garnered more than 5,200 views since they were posted; Obviously, a large number of readers wanted to know.

But we weren’t looking for this fight. In March, Erie County Sheriff Terry Lyons filed a lawsuit asking a judge to determine whether he should comply with a request from a newspaper in Cincinnati to release the list. In early June, Common Pleas Judge Tygh Tone ruled the law clearly stated the list should be released.

Legal experts called Lyons’ lawsuit bogus and termed it an attack on the state’s public records law. If citizens who ask for public records are forced to answer to a lawsuit when making a request, the availability of public information becomes severely diminished.

The Register received the information after Tone’s ruling and it would have been irresponsible not to make it available to readers who have no other way to get it. We have taken no stand against the right of qualified residents to carry concealed weapons.

We do, however, have a strong stand against the state keeping secrets from those it governs, and codifying that secrecy into Ohio law. The demand by the NRA and others that the information be exempt from the public record means there are no checks on whether the program is being properly administered.

While it is true sheriffs are directed to carefully review the process, that’s no guarantee. Just look back to the Register’s coverage earlier this year concerning Sheriff Lyons’ inability to properly execute arrest warrants.

In January, there was a backlog of more than 600 arrest warrants the sheriff had not served. At least two of those were orders that had been issued years earlier to arrest child rape suspects, and deputies were unable to show that any effort had ever been made to arrest the men.

Lyons, either through incompetence or staffing issues, effectively gave these men who allegedly raped children a free pass. Deputies did track down one of the suspects after the Register published a series of stories about the warrants, but by this time the child victim was unwilling to testify.

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.

Residents who have obtained concealed carry licenses should be proud they have been granted that privilege and absolutely unashamed that they have the courage it takes.

They also should be unashamed that information should be part of the public record.

And the NRA should just back off.