Sutter County, California Sheriff Brandon Barnes is speaking out after being required to turn over information about the county’s concealed carry licensees to the San Francisco Chronicle after the paper filed a Freedom of Information Act request. Barnes posted to Facebook a copy of a letter he’s sending CCW holders in the county, informing them that while he personally declined to release the information, the county’s attorneys told him he had no choice.
Meanwhile, the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle is upset with the sheriff for saying anything at all.
In response to the sheriff’s decision to publicize the Chronicle’s request and to notify CCW permit holders, San Francisco Chronicle Editor In Chief Audrey Cooper issued the following statement:
“I am deeply disturbed by how some sheriffs have handled a routine request for public information from a respected and established news outlet. As a result, they have put our journalists in personal danger for their own political gain.
“It is a journalist’s job to investigate trends, and we do not intend on publishing personal information of private citizens. Unfortunately, the sheriffs sought to play up distrust in media when it became clear that they cannot deny access to public information.”
Cooper later added the newspaper would refine its Public Records Act request out of concern for their reporter’s safety. His name will be removed. Cooper will instead use her name in the Chronicle’s request for the data.
I don’t see anything in the sheriff’s statement identifying the reporter for the Chronicle, nor would I condone any sort of threat made against the reporter for requesting the information. I’m a big proponent of the Freedom of Information Act laws, and generally speaking, I’m opposed to releasing any individual information about concealed carry licensees. The one aspect of that rule that I’ve struggled with over the years is this; in may-issue states like California, I do believe the process of doling out concealed carry licenses can be abused. In fact, reporters at the San Jose Mercury News have been doing an excellent job in covering a potential scandal involving campaign donations in exchange for concealed carry licenses in Santa Clara County, California and they’ve been relying in part on Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain information. Keeping this information private in may-issue states can hinder the uncovering of real corruption. I see no reason whatsoever for this information to be made public in shall issue states, and I also see the value of protecting the privacy of concealed carry holders in may issue states as well. As I said, the issue is one I struggle with.
However, I don’t have an issue at all with what Sheriff Barnes has done in informing concealed carry holders that their information has been turned over to the San Francisco Chronicle, and Cooper is completely out of line in attacking the sheriff and gun owners by claiming the sheriff has endangered reporters simply for reporting some news himself. It’s fine for Cooper to say that the paper doesn’t intend on publishing personal information of private citizens. They still have that information, and we’ve certainly seen a number of papers do so in the past.
Gun owners have every reason to be suspicious of the media when it goes digging around legal gun owners, and every right to be informed when they do so as well. In fact, Cooper would be better off taking a lesson in transparency from the sheriff and share more information about the story that the paper is working on instead of displaying a shocking hostility towards concealed carry holders by insinuating that they are going to threaten the lives of her reporters.