Records Concerning Safety Should Be Public

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The killing of Trayvon Martin caused us to wonder whether anything so tragic could happen in Shaker. That would depend, in part, on how many residents have guns. To find out, The Shakerite filed a public records request to determine the number of Shaker Heights residents who have a license to carry a concealed weapon. We feel that it’s important for our community to know and understand this number, which would help establish the presence of guns in our surroundings. However, the Cuyahoga County law department denied our request and stated that a sheriff’s records of such licenses are “confidential and not ‘public records.’ ”

In Cuyahoga County alone, there were 104 homicides by firearm in 2011, with 30 of the victims under the age of 25. Seven people died in Copley, Ohio Aug. 6 when a man shot his girlfriend’s family and his neighbors. Six lives were taken in Akron the week before Christmas, most involving criminal drugs. And in the city of Cleveland, over the course of four months, 30 homicides took place. In 2012 alone, the shooting at Chardon High School was more than enough to shake up this community and every community in the nation. Then, last week, a Lakewood High School student was shot and killed as he returned to a party.

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 5,740 children and teenagers were killed by gunfire in 2008 and 2009. In 2007, one child or teen was killed by gunfire every three hours, eight every day, 58 every week. We acknowledge that some deaths by gunfire are caused by illegally owned weapons, but in cases like Trayvon’s, the gun was legally concealed. Studies also show that gunshot wounds are the leading cause of death for 10- to 19 year olds, besides motor vehicle accidents. Although the list of licensed drivers in Ohio is also confidential, we are easily aware of who is driving the car next to us on the road. What we remain ignorant of is if the driver next to us has a concealed weapon in the glove compartment.

Although they are the two leading causes of teen deaths, you can hardly compare the two. A gun is easily hidden, but your face is clearly seen behind the wheel. The purpose of having a driver’s license is to legally transport yourself from place to place. The purpose of having a gun can be seen as much more threatening. Whether for hunting or self defense, the essential reason for owning a gun is in case you ever have to use it. As members of a community, we have the right to know how many of these potentially harmful weapons reside legally in our city.

According to Ohio law, only journalists may view – not copy or reproduce – records of conceal and carry permits.  The Shakerite was originally not allowed to view the records because the law department considered it a student exercise, not a newspaper. However, we issued a rebuttal, citing the Hazelwood Supreme Court Case which established that the role of a public forum newspaper is to inform the general public. We were then granted access to view the confidential list – which does not include addresses — as journalists. But journalists are not the only ones who should have the right to view this information.

Maintaining this information for public access is a safety precaution. We do not support the idea to publicly display the names and addresses of gun owners in our area. However, in the interest of safety, the number of gun licenses in our community should be accessible. Unfortunately, there is no satisfactory ending to this problem. Most likely, the law will not be changed, the information will remain confidential and residents will continue to hold concealed weapons, for any reason. So our best advice is to stay alert and aware, because as Cuyahoga County – and Ohio — continue to withhold this information from residents, we have no better option.

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