Newspaper conglomerate Civitas Media discusses building nationwide database of CCW licensees in internal email.
by Chad D. Baus
Ohio --(Ammoland.com)- According to an internal email provided to Buckeye Firearms Association by a confidential source, Civitas Media, which owns some 88 newspapers across the country, has discussed the use of “public records act requests” to “build state-by-state databases that list those who have the right to carry” firearm licenses.
The email, dated January 19, 2014, was written by Civitas Media’s director of content, Jim Lawitz, and distributed to content directors, managers and producers at company-owned newspapers in 12 states, including 38 newspapers here in Ohio.
Civitas Media editorial report – Jan. 13- Jan. 17
From Jim Lawitz
We are launching two enterprise projects across our newsrooms this month. The first will deal with the creeping influence of heroin in our communities. The deadly drug has quietly taken over, reaching across all age groups and eclipsing meth as the recreational drug of choice. The second project examines the explosion of “conceal and carry” gun permits across the U.S. Through public records act requests, we will attempt to build state-by-state databases that list those who have the right to carry a concealed weapon. (emphasis added)
Here is a scan of the original email with email addresses redacted.
Buckeye Firearms Association contacted several Civitas-owned newspapers around the state about the email, and while they acknowledged its existence, no one was willing to provide comment on the record.
Likewise, Mr. Lawitz was initially reticent to speak on the record. Eventually, however, he provided the following quote:
“We do not typically publicly comment on internal proprietary communication. However, we have no plans to publish any names on any lists. Further, we are open to discuss any published reports.”
Lawitz would not otherwise comment on the record about the status of the company’s plans for building the “state-by-state databases” referred to in his January 19 2014 email.
Whether or not this statement proves satisfactory to the gun rights community remains to be seen. As I explained to him in our conversation, gun owners are deeply sensitive when it comes to a discussion of building a database of gun owners, and anti-gun rights media have a long history of attempts to compile and use these types of lists to intimidate concealed handgun licensees.
When Ohio’s concealed carry law was first passed almost ten years ago, a poison-pill provision inserted by anti-gun then-Gov. Bob Taft (R) allowed journalists access to the lists, even though the law declared such records to be “confidential and…not public records.” (O.R.C. § 2923.129 (B) (1)). This media access loophole was abused by anti-Second Amendment journalists to such a degree that, in late 2006, Taft was forced to sign a modification to the law which specified that journalists are allowed to view, but not copy, the records. The Ohio Newspaper Association then set about to debate the word “copy” as if they were Bill Clinton defining the word “is,” and in the end it took an opinion issued by the Ohio Attorney General to stop the anti-Second Amendment journalists in their tracks.
Just before the new limits took effect in 2007, Sandusky Register editor Matt Westerhold obtained and published a list of CHL-holders from Erie, Huron, Ottawa, Sandusky and Seneca counties, arguing that the lists were public record (as noted above, O.R.C. § 2923.129 (B) (1) specifically says they are not), and discounting warnings that the records can be used for nefarious purposes.
In response, Buckeye Firearms Association decided to use truly publicly-available records to obtain information about Matt Westerhold and publish that information, which included his address and photos of his home, a description of his vehicle and license plate number, (which he had been driving when he committed a recent traffic offense). Later, in an article entitled “What is the harm in publishing lists of concealed handgun license holders?,” we used Westerhold as a case study to show how a person can use public records to obtain information that could be used by someone with intent to do harm. We obtained (but did not republish in its entirety even though it was acquired through public record) his birth date, social security number, and even the name of his then-pre-teen child. We pointed out that from the information we gathered though public record it would have been easy for a criminal to determine where the child went to school, what bus the child rode on, etc.
In short, our point is and always has been that THE ONLY USE FOR THESE LISTS IS TO TARGET AND VICTIMIZE GUN OWNERS.
That point was made again in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, when Gannett Company’s The Journal News of White Plains, N.Y. decided to punish people who had nothing to do with the crime by publishing an interactive map with the names and addresses of handgun permit owners in New York’s Westchester and Rockland counties. Indignant readers responded by publishing personal information about the The Journal News‘ staffers, much as Buckeye Firearms Association did in 2007, and other news outlets began documenting thefts of guns from homes on The Journal News map.
State Sen. Joe Uecker cited the problems this New York newspaper caused when he introduced SB 60 last March. The bill would, once and for all, close the media access loophole that currently allows journalists to view (but not copy) the private, personal information of persons who have obtained a license to carry a concealed handgun from the State of Ohio.
Law-abiding gun owners who choose to exercise their Second Amendment rights do not deserve to be treated as though they are registered sex offenders, outed on a public list as so called “undesirables,” which is why we react so strongly to even the “idea” or “discussion” of the building of a database.
I am certain that gun owners around the state and across the country will continue to keep a close eye on the goings-on at Civitas Media.
Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Secretary, and BFA PAC Vice Chairman.
Buckeye Firearms Association is a grassroots political action committee dedicated to defending and advancing the right of Ohio citizens to own and use firearms for all legal activities. Visit: www.buckeyefirearms.org