The Second Amendment gives Americans the right to keep and bear arms. But it does not give the pro-gun lobby power to strip Ohioans of their right to know who has obtained concealed-carry permits.
State Rep. Joe Uecker, a Cincinnati- area Republican, National Rifle Association instructor, and former police officer, has introduced a bill to keep names of 60,000 Ohioans licensed to carry handguns secret unless journalists win court orders to gain access to them. This assault on public records must be rejected.
Public access to concealed-carry permits has been under attack for several years. In 2004, legislation was passed to deny access to the permit information to everyone except journalists. In 2007, the restriction was tightened so much that reporters now can only view the lists and not make copies of them. They’re not even allowed to take notes on the lists.
These laws were written under the guise of protecting privacy rights. But what they really do is chip away at freedom by allowing information to be hidden that ought to be available to the public.
Proponents of secrecy such as the Buckeye Firearms Association cite the Ohio Revised Code, which states that such details “are confidential and are not public records.”
The law itself is flawed, though. John Gilchrist, an attorney for the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, recently testified before a state Senate panel that the law should be amended to make information about concealed-carry permits public record.
“If these records were to be made public, academics, newspapers, law school students, and others could do research to determine the amount of gun violence committed by licensees,” Mr. Gilchrist testified. He added that police chiefs fear violence will increase as more guns are taken into public establishments.
Dennis Hetzel, Ohio Newspaper Association executive director, said the pro-gun lobby’s emotional rhetoric about the safety fears generated by the disclosure of such information can be matched with scenarios about how the information could enhance safety by acting as a deterrent.
Mr. Hetzel said it is “critical to remember that knowing that someone has a carry permit does not give a criminal any information whatsoever about whether there is a weapon in the home.”
Most troubling to public records advocates is how Ohio’s bizarre compromise of allowing journalists to look at but not copy down or get lists of names violates fundamental right-to-know laws.
“You should not have to state a reason to see a public record,” Mr. Hetzel wrote. “This law forces judges to pretend they are editors. They are not.
“If the courts can stop the reporting process in its tracks,” he added, “it’s a defeat and very bad precedent for those who believe journalists have an important watchdog role to play on what government officials are doing.”
Making already bad access more restrictive is a slap at democracy. The General Assembly should shoot down Mr. Uecker’s anti-American bill.