A Really, Really Terible Idea

There are bad ideas – The New England Patriots deflating game balls in the AFC Championship Game.  There are catastrophically bad ideas – the reality TV series “Hits and Mrs.” featuring Pete Rose and his young enough to be his granddaughter wife. And then there is the current idea floated by Ohio State Senator Joe Uecker  to eliminate all public access to concealed carry permits in Ohio.  This is a truly terrible idea.  Let me explain.  

First, Senator Uecker has introduced the proposal as part of the senate’s budget plan.  So, instead of introducing the proposal as its own stand-alone bill, Senator Uecker has it buried in a mound of paper that makes it tough to find.  Not exactly transparent to start with.  But that’s a favorite trick of legislators on both sides of the aisle, so no need to single out that transgression.   

Let’s talk instead about the mound of misinformation supporting the proposal.  Senator Uecker purports to be looking out for the interests of gun owners who he thinks will become burglary victims if the public learns who is packing and who’s not.  This is false at worst and misleading at best.  Ohio citizens who wish to keep a gun in their home do not need a concealed carry permit. That’s provided for in Ohio Revised Code 2913.12(C)(1)(d).  So homeowners who merely want a gun at their bedside don’t have to apply for a concealed carry permit, and nefarious bad guys who take the time to read newspaper accounts of the names won’t know who has a gun at their home and who doesn’t.  

And misleading information part two is the notion that the public has access to the permit information in the first place.  Not true.  As part of a compromise with the gun lobby when the concealed carry permit law was passed, the Ohio legislature limited access to the permits to “journalists.”  That term is defined in the Revised Code.  So unless the bad guy moonlights as a reporter, he is likely not going to be able to see the permits.  To suggest otherwise is a distortion.  

And it is equally misleading to suggest that the media is able to publish a wholesale copy of the entire list of concealed carry permit holders.  Inevitably, Senator Uecker and his supporters point to the dumb decision by a New York newspaper to publish a map of concealed carry permit holders and their addresses after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.  But at the time, New York did not have the limitations that are in effect in Ohio.   

In Ohio, the  law that permits a journalist to examine the permits also provides that the journalist may not “copy” the  information on the permit.  The Ohio Attorney General has issued an opinion saying that this provision not only means the journalist can’t make a photocopy, the journalist can’t even make a note.  This provision effectively makes wholesale copying and publication impossible.  Senator Uecker’s bill is a solution in search of a problem.     

One of Senator Uecker’s cheerleaders is Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearm Association.  He is quoted as saying “There’s no public good that comes out of the media accessing that list.  So it should be closed.”  With all due respect, Mr. Irvine should stop shooting off his mouth.  Does he seriously think there is no public good that comes from media access to this information?  County sheriffs issue the permits.  I hate to burst Mr. Irvine’s bubble, but it’s at least remotely possible that a sheriff could be negligent or corrupt in discharging his duties here.  That, um, happens sometimes. Media access allows the public a window, albeit a small one, to check on the process and see if everything is on the up and up.  It’s the reason we have laws requiring public access to government records in the first place.  

I’m sure in response, Mr. Irvine will train his sights (I am using gun puns on purpose) on the Second Amendment, but given that the Second Amendment talks about a “well regulated militia” it’s hard to see how the Constitution exempts this particular public record from the coverage of the Public Records Act.   

Senator Uecker’s is a truly terrible idea.  It has “ready fire aim” written all over it.