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Published: Thursday, 9/13/2007

Fix gun-records law

NOT content with merely weakening the concealed-carry law foisted upon Ohioans three years ago, the Republican majority in the General Assembly last December included on its lame-duck agenda an attack on open records that is set to take effect Sept. 29.

The provision, little noticed in the hoopla that surrounded the legislature overriding then-Gov. Bob Taft's rare display of backbone, prevents journalists from copying information from concealed-weapons permits, purportedly to protect the permit holders who have some reason to feel they are at risk of criminal attack.

Ohio's open-records laws used to be among the most progressive in the nation but in recent years GOP lawmakers have slowly begun to chip away at this most basic of freedom's safeguards.

Our opposition to both the original concealed-carry legislation and subsequent watering down that struck down home-rule ordinances in Toledo and other Ohio municipalities is well known. This, however, is not about guns; it is about the public's right to have access to "public" records.

Last year's lame-duck legislature, showing the same penchant for secrecy that has become all too familiar in the Bush White House, decided that weapon permits, access to which had already been restricted to journalists and limited to name, age, and county, could still be considered public if journalists could view the records, even if they were not allowed to be copied.

Now, as the law is set to take effect, sheriffs around Ohio are asking what, exactly, is meant by "copy." Even lawmakers who support the legislation don't have an answer, some saying that the law rules out all forms of copying, while others take a more electronic view of "copy" that allows journalists to use pen and paper.

It would be better to hold off enactment of this provision until the General Assembly can figure out what "copying" entails. Hopefully, it will have the sense to see that the broadest interpretation is the only choice if records are to be truly open.



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