Two local newspapers in Ohio County, W. Va., The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, filed a request with the sheriff’s office on March 4 for a list of concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit holders in the county.
The list of gun permit holders is considered public information under West Virginia's Freedom of Information Act, but Sheriff Patrick Butler proudly posted his denial letter to the newspapers on Facebook.
In addition to the letter, he wrote on Facebook:
Sheriff Butler has denied this request, as he feels the release of this information is a violation of privacy; as well as comprises the safety of our residents. Sheriff Butler believes that the CCW Permit Holders have a right to know that there has been a request for this information to be made public.
Sheriff Butler also told WTOV 9, “First of all, I think it's an invasion of privacy, and I think it's a dangerous precedent to set to let people all over the Ohio Valley know who has permits and who doesn’t."
“If you see someone's name in the paper that has a gun and they go on vacation there's a good chance they'll have guns in their house,” added Sheriff Butler. “If their name isn't in the paper, meaning they don't have a weapon, well. I think burglars would target that area because they'd get less resistance."
Sheriff Butler offered no evidence of his claim, but admitted he was likely violating the law.
“I believe it's been ruled it's public record, but I am going to disagree with that until the day I’m out of office,” stated Sheriff Butler.
Sheriff Butler has received support on Facebook by residents who support the Second Amendment over the First Amendment.
Some Facebook commenters have said the newspaper editor should be run out of town.
Mike Myer, editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, recently told the Columbia Journalism Review, "I don't plan to leave town."
“Obviously you’re in a slippery slope situation if a sheriff can unilaterally deny a request for that type of public record,” Myer added. “What kind of record is he likely to deny next?”
Sheriff Butler countered, "I may end up in jail. We’re prepared to fight it all the way.”
According to the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act:
Any custodian of a public record who willfully violates the Act is guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction may be fined from $100.00 to $500.00 or imprisoned in the county jail for up to ten (10) days, or both.
Sources: Wvago.gov, WTOV 9, Facebook, Columbia Journalism Review