Editorial from The Canton Repository Ohio’s concealed-carry law took effect in 2004. Today, nearly 1 in 20 Ohioans older than 21 hold a permit that allows them to conceal a firearm on their person. To be clear, a concealed-carry permit is not a requirement to own or possess a weapon. The law is in place to allow those who desire to do so the right to exercise a measure of protection while outside of their home.
Permits, however, are not issued to just anyone and for good reason. Ohio law, as it currently stands, wisely requires applicants to undergo a background check and at least eight hours of training on how to safely handle a firearm and ammunition, including two hours practice on a firing range.
County sheriffs departments are responsible for conducting background checks, making sure each applicant received proper training from a certified instructor and then issuing the permit.
What happens, though, if they fail to screen applicants properly? Or if permit holders abuse their responsibility under the concealed-carry law?
Journalists from across the country have for years exposed flawed oversight of similar programs in other states, like a 2000 report by The Los Angeles Times that found the state of Texas had been issuing concealed carry permits to hundreds of residents with questionable backgrounds, including a man who killed two and seriously injured another in a shootout over drugs. Then there’s a 2006 report by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which revealed that the Sunshine State had issued concealed handgun permits to more than 1,400 people who plead guilty or no contest to felonies and 126 people with outstanding warrants, including for murder.
Countless other examples across the country highlight the need for transparency when it comes to issuing concealed-carry handgun permits. But a provision in the Ohio Senate’s $71.3 billion, two-year budget proposal would make that task nearly impossible for reporters in Ohio.
Since Ohio started its concealed-carry program in 2004, the records of permit holders have been kept private with the exception of journalists. In 2007, lawmakers barred journalists from making copies of records or even taking notes. They can only view the records. Now there’s a renewed push to keep this information hidden from everyone.
For journalists, access to such records is critical to holding accountable county sheriff’s departments that oversee concealed-carry programs. If these agencies are going to operate such a program, they should not be allowed to keep secret lists of permit holders or those who’ve had their permits revoked. Nor should they be free from the scrutiny that arises when they issue, revoke or deny permits in error.
It’s now also imperative for journalists to track how the state’s ever-changing concealed-carry rules — like one provision that allows permit holders to carry guns in bars — are working.