April 17, 2014

Elyria
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Gun records law in dispute


Officials confused over access to concealed-carry rolls 

COLUMBUS — A new law governing access to records on concealed weapons permits is confusing sheriffs and stirring disagreement among legislative supporters, with at least one state official calling for it be challenged in the courts.

The law, set to take effect Sept. 29, was passed during December’s lame duck session as a compromise between lawmakers backed by the National Rifle Association and others who think the permits should be public records. The law only allows journalists to view the records but doesn’t allow them to copy them.

County sheriffs, who issue the permits, have been trying to figure out exactly how the law should be implemented, said Bob Cornwell, executive director of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association. As it is written, the law doesn’t make practical sense, he said.

“You can’t come in with any kind of a tape recorder,” he said. “You can’t take notes and write the names down. You can’t do anything, because it only allows you to view the information.”

The previous version of the law allowed journalists to have access to permit-holders’ names, ages and the county in which they were registered, but not home addresses or details about their guns. Journalists also could copy the information.

But lawmakers have not agreed on what the new version of the law actually means.

When the bill passed in December, Republican state Sen. David Goodman of Columbus said reporters could not copy names in their notebooks. Republican state Rep. Scott Oelslager, a sponsor of the bill, also said in December that members of the media cannot physically copy the records.

But state Sen. Steve Austria, a Dayton-area Republican, said then that nothing in the bill prevents the reporter from writing down information from the records. Another lawmaker apparently agreed in a speech on the House floor.

“While they are not allowed to copy those records, they are allowed to sit there with a pen and paper and write them all down,” said state Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican.

The law is “sausage-making at its finest,” said Leo Jennings, spokesman for Attorney General Marc Dann. Hopefully, lawmakers will reconsider the law, or someone else will challenge it in court, he said.

Former Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican who left office in January, repeatedly argued that conceal-carry permits should be open to keep public accountability as part of the system.

But Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, who touts his NRA support, is willing to close off the records, spokesman Keith Dailey said. Limiting access prevents criminals from obtaining the information and then using that knowledge to do harm, he said.

“There’s no question the statute could be written more clearly,” said Mark Weaver, a deputy attorney general for Republican Betty Montgomery from 1995 to 1999. “You could inspect it for a minute, walk outside, call your voicemail, spit out everything in your head, and then walk back in. It lends itself to tortured interpretation.”