Ohio Newspaper Under Fire for Outing Gun Owners

Nathan Burchfiel
Friday July 6, 2007

An Ohio newspaper's decision to publish the non-public records of concealed carry permit holders drew a strong response, and one gun rights advocacy group published personal but public information about the newspaper's editor.

The Sandusky Register on June 24 published the names, ages and home counties of the almost 2,700 concealed carry permit holders in its circulation area. Ohio gun laws restrict public access to concealed carry records but allow the media to access them.

The printing of the names sparked outrage from gun rights groups, including the Ohioans for Concealed Carry and the National Rifle Association. Critics argue that publishing names and identifying information about concealed carry permit holders puts them at risk being targeted for violence or identity theft.

"Now, someone who has a grudge has a list of targets/victims, and the only reason they have a list of targets/victims is because of the newspaper's unilateral action," the Buckeye Firearms Association said on its website.

BFA Legislative Chair Ken Hanson wrote that because of the newspaper's actions, "The general public may now know who owns and may or may not carry a gun. Additionally, the general public now knows who is not carrying a gun in their day to day activities."

In retaliation - and to illustrate the ease of finding personal information when given a name - the BFA began printing personal information about Sandusky Register Managing Editor Matt Westerhold. The information, while personal, is available through public records searches.

On its website, the group has printed Westerhold's phone numbers, automobile records, traffic ticket record, the address of a home he owns and information about the mortgage on the property. It has also printed redacted information on his birth date and Social Security number.

Cybercast News Service has independently verified most of the information through online public records searches, including his birth date, partial Social Security number, property holdings, and mortgage information.

The group defends its actions by saying that Westerhold, by approving the publication of the names and information about gun owners, is putting them at risk for the same kind of "this type of stalking/abuse."

Westerhold did not respond to phone calls and e-mails from Cybercast News Service requesting comment for this article.

In a commentary defending the publication decision, Westerhold acknowledged that the concealed carry permit holders are "law-abiding and upstanding" but said the decision to print their names was a "public service to readers who want to know who among them has been licensed to carry concealed weapons."

"They should be proud to be exercising their second amendment rights, and I believe most of them aren't as enraged with the Register's decision to exercise its first amendment rights in publishing the information as is the NRA, which demands secrecy," Westerhold wrote.

Ohioans for Concealed Carry President Jeff Garvas issued a statement criticizing the Register for choosing "to put a juicy headline controversy with no journalistic newsworthy content ahead of the safety of the public." He called for Westerhold's resignation and encouraged members to target advertisers to encourage them to abandon the paper.

A similar controversy erupted in Virginia in March. As Cybercast News Service previously reported, the Roanoke Times retracted its online database of Virginia concealed carry permit holders after a backlash from gun rights advocates revealed that some of the information was inaccurate and some of it shouldn't have been released.

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