WNC journalist resigns following threats over request for gun permit records

An uproar over a Western North Carolina editor’s request for a list of concealed-carry gun permits led to the editor withdrawing his request, and resigning from the weekly mountain paper.

Robert Horne, the editor of the weekly Cherokee Scout since 2005, resigned from his position Tuesday, following the backlash over public records request he made to Cherokee Sheriff Keith Lovin for a list of residents who hold concealed-carry permits. He plans on working through May, and then leaving the state.

Cherokee County is located in the mountainous,  westernmost corner of the state.

Horne has asked for a list of concealed-carry gun permits on Feb. 19, but Lovin denied it and then posted a response from Horne about how the information should be public on the sheriff’s Facebook page, which sparked a deluge of comments critical of the editor, according to this account from the Columbia Journalism Review.

Threats to newspaper staffers and Horne started coming in, with Horne reporting several of the threats to the same sheriff’s office.

(The permits are, despite Lovin’s conclusion, considered public records, though legislation introduced this year seeks to make the information confidential.)

Scout’s publisher, David Brown, issued an apology this week to readers about Horne’s request, calling it a “tremendous error” to ask for the records.  Brown turned down a request for comment, saying the paper’s owners, Community Newspapers Inc., in Georgia, asked him not to talk about the situation.

Both the Columbia Journalism Review and national media commentator Jim Romenesko have been following the story, with their takes on the situation here and here.

From the CJR article:

The Cherokee Scout isn’t the first American newspaper to find itself in the crosshairs for its handling of public information about individual gun owners. In December, The Journal News in White Plains, New York faced a scorching backlash from gun owners after it published names and addresses of residents who had gun permits. The public outcry was so toxic armed guards had to protect the paper’s headquarters.

“After the backlash over the same issue in the state of New York, these idiots should have known what the citizens’ reactions would be,” wrote a commenter, about the Scout, in an online forum for North Carolina gun owners.

And last week, the state legislature in Maine voted to make gun permit data temporarily exempt from the state’s right-to-know law, reacting to the Bangor Daily News’s since-abandoned public records request for information on concealed-weapons permit holders.

The CJR article also makes the point that newspapers in small communities like Cheroke County don’t always have the leverage to take a stand on public records issues, with sheriffs in powerful positions that can make life difficult, or worse, for inquisitive reporters.

5 Comments

  1. John Chambers

    February 27, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    By all means such records should be kept confidential and only available to duly authorized law enforcement agencies with a need to know, on a case-by-case basis. Publishing the names and/or addresses of law-abiding citizens with the indication that their residence might contain a highly desirable target for theft is reprehensible and reckless behavior, regardless of the side one is on in the gun control debate, If we can’t trust our Press to use good sense and reason in their reporting, then perhaps this does need to be regulated.

  2. david esmay

    February 27, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    John, they’re not asking for a list of valuable household items, but something that is a matter of public record, no different than a driver’s license.

  3. Frances Jenkins

    February 28, 2013 at 8:23 am

    David,
    The list also includes victims of domestic violence who have purchased guns. Their names should not be available to their abusers.

  4. markofafreeman

    February 28, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Thank you, thank you, to all these vindictive news organizations for exposing this media loophole in the law that must be closed.

  5. Sarah Ovaska

    February 28, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    @John, FWIW, the Cherokee Scout editor in this case never indicated (from what I’ve seen) that he was going to print a list of names (as a NY newspaper did) , but, rather, it appeared he was going to do some sort of analysis (what neighborhoods/towns have the highest numbers, etc.). Another interesting fact to add — Cherokee County had the highest concealed-carry rates in the state. http://www.thecherokeescout.com/articles/2012/08/29/news/doc503d170bd7e4f493058171.txt. Just food for thought, nothing more and nothing less.