Boycott Watch
February 13, 2004
Ohio Gun Concealed Cary Law Has
Gun Owners and Newspaper Up In Arms.
   Summary: Is an Ohio newspaper violating journalistic standards by making itself part of the story in fighting the Ohio firearms concealed carry law?
   Ohio Governor Bob Taft signed a law permitting law abiding Ohio citizens to apply for permits to carry concealed firearms on January 8, 2004, the same day that Cleveland major newspaper, the Plain Dealer, published an editorial declaring it's intention to "obtain this information and publish it," referring to the list of legally licensed permit holders.

   This action has angered many permit seekers, which may be what the Plain Dealer had in mind. The editorial in which the statement was made may be the first volley in a fight in which the Plain Dealer, which is supposed to be non-partisan as all newspapers should be, has placed itself squarely as an opponent of the law.

   "If the Plain Dealer publishes the list of permit holders, I will publish a list of plain dealer reporters and their home addresses" said a gun owner and concealed carry permit advocate who prefers to remain anonymous. "The plain dealer wants to intimidate people from engaging in a legal activity. It is like obtaining a list of gay public school teachers and publishing it in order to intimidate them."

   Being anonymous is what the permit holders prefer, but the legislation which will take effect 90 days after the signing by Governor Taft, allows media to see the list, a provision that Governor Taft demanded as a condition for his signature. The Plain Dealer, however, wants to take it a step further than viewing the list and publish the name of everyone on the list, thus placing the names in the public view, which was not the intent of the Ohio legislature or Governor Taft.

   Boycott Watch contacted Plain Dealers Managing Editor Tom O'Hara, and asked him if he was serious about publishing the names and addresses or the permit holders that were intended for the media only. Mr. O'Hara replied "Yes, because we believe this is information the public should have…we can do what we think is responsible and important."

   The Plain Dealer, like many newspapers, endorses candidates and positions on ballot issues. Permit advocates feel this is different because the Plain Dealer is actively taking steps beyond editorializing and plans to act as a partisan organization in a political matter by placing itself into the permit issue as activists. Newspapers traditionally do not take on the role of advocate in non-election issues. For example, newspapers may take a position in a ballot issue regarding abortion, but a newspaper steps out of bounds if it chooses to publish the names of people who obtain an abortion, which is a legal procedure.

   When asked about the newspaper taking an active role as a political partisan, Mr. O'Hara said: "We endorse all kinds of candidates and issues - it's traditional for a newspaper to take positions. The separation of news from editorials does not effect our reporting." As a publication that works hard to remain non-biased, Boycott Watch does question if remaining non-biased is possible when the newspaper takes an activist role in an issue, as the Plain Dealer clearly has.

   In order to obtain an Ohio concealed carry permit, one must pass a background check to make sure, among other things, that the applicant has not committed any serious crimes. Criminals will be denied permits by the new law. "This is a perfectly legal activity, and the Plain Dealer wants to criminalize it" said another gun owner who fears applying for the permit because he wants to remain anonymous. "I want to apply for the permit, but if my name is published, it will only help criminals know what house to break into to get a gun, which is the opposite of what the Ohio Concealed Carry law and hopefully the Plain Dealer intend."

   Boycott Watch saved the toughest question for Mr. O'Hara for last. One person who intends to obtain a permit said he would publish the names and home addresses of the Plain Dealer reporters if the Plain Dealer published the names of permit holders, to which Mr. O'Hara replied: "They are welcome to do whatever they think is right."

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