Created on Saturday, 15 June 2013 Written by REGINA GARCIA CANO,Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio could join dozens of other states in banning public access to handgun license records as the General Assembly considers a measure to force journalists — the only ones other than law enforcement agencies exempted from the ban — to obtain a court order to review the information.
The legislative proposal would eliminate a provision under Ohio's existing law that allows reporters to view the name, date of birth and county of residence of each person for whom a sheriff has issued, renewed, suspended or revoked a concealed handgun permit.
Journalists can see the records but cannot copy the information. The records are not available to the public.
The proponent of the measure, Sen. Joseph Uecker, R-Loveland, said his 2-year-long effort to eliminate the journalists' exception was further ignited by the fear that an Ohio news outlet could replicate the December work of a suburban New York newspaper that displayed a map showing all gun permit holders in a given area.
But under Ohio's exception for journalists, it would be virtually impossible to build such a map, said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association. He said reporters who receive permission from a sheriff's department to review handgun license records are not allowed to write down any information they see on the documents.
"We can always come up with anecdotes of what could happen if there's access to this information; it's anecdotal fear," Hetzel said. "But what we need to do is see what's really going on and (see) what's the likelihood that one of those anecdotes will happen."
Uecker said he doesn't rule out that under existing law, journalists in Ohio could build a database of handgun license holders.
"It depends on the memory of the journalist and what the mission of the journalist is," Uecker said. "They can memorize some names, go out, write (the) names, come back, memorize more. It's silly, but it could happen."
Nearly 30 states block access to gun records to the public and the media, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Hetzel said journalists have been able to find convicted felons who improperly received permits to carry concealed weapons.
"I'm really stumped. I don't understand why they (the bill's proponents) want to allow the government to make this database secret," Hetzel said. "I don't think that anecdotes outweigh the necessity for the information that the government is collecting to be as open as possible."
The state issued more than 31,000 concealed carry licenses during the first four months of 2013.
Uecker's measure is backed by the Buckeye Firearms Association. The group's chairman, Jim Irvine, said he sees no public interest being served by the law's exception for journalists.
"I don't think the media should be monitoring this, just as the media shouldn't be monitoring who gets a driver's license," Irvine said.
He said searchable databases such as the one that the New York newspaper posted on its website allow criminals to find out who doesn't own a gun and target those individuals.
The Journal News newspaper in White Plains, N.Y., showed information about gun owners in two counties following the Newtown, Conn., school massacre in December. The paper later removed the map from its website.
The paper's publisher said the database was taken down in response to provisions in the state's sweeping gun control legislation that was approved in January, which restricted access to gun permit records that were previously public.
A local police association said many believed the map led to two burglaries targeting gun safes.