NC Newspaper: Asking for Gun Permit records was 'Tremendous Error in Judgme

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(Credit: Cherokee Scout, Screenshot)

Cherokee Scout editor Robert Horne resigned this week just days after apologizing for trying to obtain the gun records of local residents, Jim Romenesko reported.

The request was for “all Cherokee County County residents who applied for/and or have received a concealed carry permit,” according to the Columbia Journalism Review.  The request went public because Sheriff Keith Lovin publicized the request, the Scout reported.

According to the Scout‘s Feb. 21 note to readers announcing that it was “retracting our request” because of reader response, the newspaper “never had any desire nor intention to publish any names of any person carrying a concealed weapon.” Instead, it suggested the newspaper would “share, for example, how many residents in a specific area had gun permits.” In an apparent attempt to appeal to readers, the Scout described a potential story.

“If we reported that, say, a large percentage of Tar Heel residents were packing, do you think criminals would be anxious to break into homes in that neighborhood? We think not.”

Further, the Scout’s note referenced the White Plains, New York Journal News controversial publication of gun permit owners, noting that the Scout’s “Publisher David Brown as adamantly opposed to what the New York newspaper did.”  In December, the Journal News created a list and map identifying the addresses of local residents with gun permits, as iMediaEthics wrote at the time.   Shortly after publication, the Journal News said it had already received negative responses from “hundreds of callers” but defended the publication as newsworthy. About a month later, the paper succumbed to pressure (although not admitting it and instead arguing the data was on its way to being “outdated and inaccurate”) and took down the identifying information from its website.

Despite arguing that it could win a court case to get the records, the Scout said it wouldn’t resort to that because it would be “costing taxpayers money.”

The Scout’s publisher David Brown also apologized Feb. 22 for the records request, which he called “a tremendous error in judgment.”  Romenesko dubbed Brown’s apology “the most incredible newspaper apology ever.” The apology reads in part:

“As publisher of your local newspaper, I want to apologize to everyone we unintentionally upset with our public records request for a list of those who have or have applied for a concealed carry permit. We had no idea the the reaction it would cause.”

Horne, who told Romenesko he’s been getting “threats against me and my home” over the records request, was editor of the weekly local paper for “seven-plus years,” according to the Scout’s story on his resignation, which didn’t mention the records request.

iMediaEthics has written to Scout publisher David Brown asking:

  • For confirmation that the records request only went public because of the sheriff’s publicizing it
  • If the Scout would have moved forward with its intended story on gun permit concentration had the records request not gone public
  • If a specific incident prompted the records request
  • Why the paper apologized
  • If the Scout has ever pulled back on a planned story or records request because of public reaction before
  • Why Horne’s resignation didn’t mention the records request incident.

iMediaEthics has also reached out to Sheriff Keith Lovin for a response to the Scout’s statement about him. We’ll update with any responses.

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NC Newspaper: Asking for Gun Permit records was ‘Tremendous Error in Judgment’

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