Chronicle-Telegram editorial: Ohio's county sheriffs would hand out concealed-carry permits in secret if the state Senate has its way

Editorial from The Chronicle-Telegram A kitchen-sink addition to the Senate's version of the state budget bill, disclosed Tuesday, would strip journalists of the limited access they have to records about permits to carry concealed handguns.

Budget bills are notorious catchalls, addressing many issues that have nothing to do with budgets and might not withstand scrutiny if they had to be debated separately. They tend to sail unimpeded into law if they're tucked into a bill that the General Assembly must pass by June 30 to keep the state operating.

A lot of bad laws get made this way, and a complete prohibition against access to concealed-carry records would be another one.

As it is, the public has no access to the records except through journalists, whose access is absurdly limited. Journalists can see the records but can't copy them or take notes about them. The provision in the budget bill would eliminate even that access.

If it became law, every concealed-carry handgun license would be handled outside the scrutiny of anyone but the applicant or permit holder and the sheriff charged with issuing, renewing, suspending or revoking the permit. Ohioans would be expected to trust their county sheriffs to make the right decision every time.

Trust ought to be earned, not expected, especially when government officials are involved. Like ordinary citizens, they make mistakes. Unlike ordinary citizens, they have special powers, in this case to decide who gets and keeps permits to carry concealed handguns. Sheriffs ought to be subject to scrutiny so the public can assess their performance.

Yes, most sheriffs are responsible and diligent. So are most permit seekers and holders. But after The New York Times reviewed permits issued in North Carolina, a state where permit holders' identities are public, it reported in December 2011 that more than 2,400 permit holders (roughly 1 percent of the total) had been convicted of felonies or misdemeanors, excluding traffic offenses, over a five-year period. At least 10 had been convicted of murder or manslaughter.

Under the Second Amendment, Americans have the right to keep and bear arms, but public access to records concerning concealed-carry permits is no infringement on that right. In fact, it is serves the important purpose of ensuring that government is neither infringing on the right nor administering it carelessly.

The Senate should drop the provision from its version of the budget bill. If it fails to do so, a conference committee charged with reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill should drop the provision.

Secrecy won't make Ohio a safer state.