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Newspaper, gun-rights group feud over open records

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Newspaper, gun-rights group feud over open records

  • The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer published the names of northeastern Ohio concealed weapon permit holders because the law made the list available only to the media, prompting an Ohio gun-rights group to publish personal information about the paper’s editor.

July 30, 2004 — An Ohio newspaper and a gun-rights group are feuding over public access to the names of concealed weapons permit holders. The newspaper published a list of permit holders in print and online, and the group retaliated by posting personal information about the newspaper’s editor to its Web site.

On July 28, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer began publishing lists of northeastern Ohio residents who hold permits to carry concealed weapons. On the 28th the paper published 1500 names over a full page, and on the 29th published an additional 3000 names over a page and a half.

Four other Ohio papers — the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram , The (Lorain) Morning Journal , The Sidney Daily News and The (Warren) Tribune Chronicle — had previously published similar lists, but The Plain Dealer was the first to also publish the names online.

The papers published the lists in response to Ohio’s new concealed weapons law, which went into effect April 8. Under the law, the public does not have access to names of permit holders, but the media does.

“Would we publish those names if the record were public? Of course not,” said Plain Dealer editor Doug Clifton in an editorial. “[A]s the law is now written, the one and only way the average citizen can learn the identity of a concealed-weapon permit holder is if the news media publish it.”

The media access rule is the result of a compromise between Ohio’s legislature and governor. Gov. Bob Taft threatened to veto the concealed weapon law because it did not provide public access to lists of permit holders, but agreed to sign it when it was amended to allow journalists access. The lists are maintained by county sheriffs, and include the name, date of birth and county of residence of all persons issued a permit.

“From the start, The Plain Dealer opposed that media-only provision, and so did most news organizations. We don’t believe the media should have access to records that the general public is denied,” Clifton wrote.

Ohioans for Concealed Carry, a state gun-rights group, called the paper’s action a dangerous invasion of privacy.

“Instances of criminals targeting particular locations they know to contain specific valuables (such as firearms) . . . are common and well documented,” the group said in a statement on its Web site. “Some people who seek to bear arms for self-defense are trying desperately not to be found — such as battered wives hiding from their former husbands.”

In response, the group published Clifton’s picture, address (including a map), phone number and other personal information on its Web site. All of the information was obtained from public records or had otherwise been made public by Clifton.

Clifton received more than 40 calls to his home on the 28th and 29th by people upset over the lists being published.

“OFCC has only ever advocated friendly, polite grassroots activism. In this case, calls to Mr. Clifton have not even been suggested. By publishing his private information, we simply hope to see if Mr. Clifton is as big a believer in open access to public records as he claims,” the group said.


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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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