Nov. 30, 2007 · Journalists are prohibited from writing down, or in any way recording, the names of gun owners kept by county sheriffs, according to an opinion issued earlier this month by Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann.
The attorney general was asked to step in following a request by a local county prosecutor who sought clarification of a change to the state’s public records law, which had confused many journalists and government officials.
“Because the only actions a journalist may take with respect to the names, counties of residence, and dates of birth described [in the law] is to see such information, we read the prohibition against a journalist’s copying such information as applying to the reproduction of the viewed information by any means, including those you specifically mention — hand-copying, handwritten notes, and dictation,” the attorney general wrote in response to the prosecutor’s request.
The move has been met with condemnation from journalists and First Amendment advocates.
“I don’t think that there’s a way on earth that it’s constitutional,” said David Goldberger, a professor who specializes in the First Amendment at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. “There are a couple of problems with it. First of all, although it’s not couched in these terms it actually functions as a prior restraint because what it’s doing is trying to prevent public information that is lawfully available to the press, by interfering with the means of publication.”
He said he is surprised there hasn’t been a move to repeal the new law.
“The silence has been deafening, we have editorials and blogs about this case but that’s not good enough,” Goldberger said.