Reviewing Names of Gun-Permit Holders Could Require Court Order

September 23, 2011

Ohioans always have had to rely on journalists to gather information on potential abuses by those granted permits to carry concealed handguns.

When the concealed-carry law was enacted in 2004, only journalists could obtain sheriffs’ lists of the names of concealed-carry permit holders and those whose licenses had been revoked.

Most news organizations used the lists to compare the names with suspects accused of gun crimes, but at least one newspaper published the entire list of permit holders in its county.

In 2007, the law was changed to forbid the release of names to reporters, who now can only view the lists; they are not allowed to take notes.

Now, House Bill 328, introduced by state Rep. Joe Uecker, a Cincinnati-area Republican, would require reporters to win a court order to gain access to the names of the 60,000 Ohioans licensed to carry handguns. The legislation would require reporters to file a court motion seeking to inspect a county’s list of gun-permit holders. A hearing would allow testimony on why access to the information is in the public interest.  Before issuing decisions, judges also would be permitted to allow testimony by any interested person or organization opposing the reporters’ requests. 

Uecker did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the bill he introduced on Tuesday.

Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association (of which The Dispatch is a member), said the group will oppose the legislation.  “The bill adds needless complexity and expense to a process that already is odd and extreme. ... There are strong, compelling public policy reasons why these records should not be secret,” Hetzel said.  “This law forces judges to pretend they are editors. They are not. These hearings essentially put journalists in the position of asking the court for permission to do their jobs,” he said.

Columbus lawyer Derek DeBrosse, who represents Ohioans for Concealed Carry, said the group did not seek the bill but had placed it on its “wish list.”  When journalists report the names of those with concealed-carry permits, they potentially alert criminals where they might be able to find guns and expose permit holders to possible danger, DeBrosse said.

The Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police has argued that the names of permit holders should be public to allow journalists and researchers to examine gun violence committed by those carrying hidden handguns. Toby Hooper, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, also said Ohio should make the identities of those carrying concealed weapons easily available to the public. “We have a right to know who is standing or sitting next to us who might have a firearm on them. Then, we get to make our judgment whether we want to be in that person’s presence or not,” she said.