Cleveland Editor Takes Heat for Publishing Gun List

By: Joe Strupp

Why did a pro-gun group post directions to a local newspaper editor’s house on its Web site?

When Ohio legislators approved a new law allowing residents to carry concealed weapons, but allowed only the media to find out the names of those obtaining such permits, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland decided to let the public know which of their neighbors were on the list.

Starting Wednesday, the paper began publishing the names, ages and home counties of the 3,000 residents who have taken out such permits, citing the public’s right to know.

“We don’t think the public should be denied access to the names at all,” said Plain Dealer Editor Doug Clifton, who published about 1,500 names over a full page Wednesday and planned to run a page and a half of the remaining names on Thursday. “We figured it was our obligation to share it with the broader public.”

But that did not sit well with a local gun rights group, which aimed its opposition to the publication effort directly at Clifton. Ohioans for Concealed Carry (OFCC) posted Clifton’s home address, phone number and even a map to his house on its Web site Wednesday. The group claimed that if readers have a right to know who has concealed weapons, they have a right to know Clifton’s personal information.

“The Plain Dealer was one of the first to publish its intention to abuse the media access privilege, granted after Gov. [Bob] Taft insisted that reporters could act as a check and a balance to insure that licenses were being issued appropriately,” the OFCC Web site states. “The editor believes in open records. Thus he should certainly have no problem with OFCC publishing his home address and telephone number.”

OFCC also posted information about the cost of Clifton’s house, his personal background and educational information, and how many children and grandchildren he has.

Clifton, a longtime leader in the Freedom of Information battle and former chair of the American Society of Newspaper Editors FOI committee, said the information went up at noon Wednesday and sparked a flurry of phone calls to his home. “There has been a steady stream of phone calls, some of them obscene,” he said. “I talked to my wife at about 3 p.m. and she said they were coming about one every two minutes.”

The veteran editor, who said he has always had a published phone number, hoped he would not have to change it, and did not expect to alter the paper’s plans for publication of the names, which will include a monthly update on any new concealed weapons permit registrants. “I’m going to play it out and see what happens,” he said. “I hope no one gets it in their head to come knocking on my door.”

The Ohio legislature passed the law in January, according to Clifton, who said the new legislation took effect in April. The Plain Dealer did not publish the lists until now because it needed time to compile the names and get all of the information together, he said.

The Plain Dealer is the fifth Ohio daily to run the names of permit holders since they began to be issued, but the only one to put them online.

Editor Matt Westerhold of the Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, one of the other papers running the lists, said he had received some angry phone calls and letters, but nothing more. “It is valuable public information,” he said about the decision to run the names. “It was very strange for them to allow only the media to [have access to the names].”

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