CHICO, Calif. – There are roughly 3,000 concealed carry weapon permit holders in Butte County. A recent incident brought the right to public information into direct conflict with the right to privacy.
Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough talked with Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea and the Editor-In-Chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, to find out what happened.
Sheriff Honea says the department received a public records request in January, from the San Francisco Chronicle. He says it asked for personal information from CCW permit holders in the county.
Honea said the paper requested information including name, date of birth, address, phone number and why applicants wanted a permit and why a permit was either issued or denied.
“They were asking for really detailed personal information that I knew people who had CCW’s would be uncomfortable being released.”
One CCW permit holder who received the letter, said he was not pleased the information was turned over, saying the very reason he has a permit, is for "concealment.” He said he understands the information is public record, but never thought anyone or agency would wish to access that information.
Honea says by California state law, the department must supply the requested information. Given that information had to be turned over, he crafted a letter to go out to county permit holders. That letter named the San Francisco Chronicle and the reporter who placed the request for information.
“I certainly didn’t want, as the Sheriff, to have my constituents read about it without first acknowledging or advising that this information was requested,” said Honea. “Ultimately we felt that since this information was being asked about CCW holders, they had a right to know there was an inquiry.”
Action News Now reached out to the San Francisco Chronicle to ask about the letter sent out by the Butte County Sheriff, and talked with the Editor-In-Chief, Audrey Cooper.
“I have never had a law enforcement officer purposely ‘out’ a reporter and say what he's requesting in terms of public record,” said Cooper.
She said the Chronicle submitted similar public records requests’ to every county in the state, not just Butte. She said the purpose was to investigate statewide trends involving CCW permits and those who have them.
“We requested it to investigate aggregate trends statewide. For example, what happens when gun laws are passed? Do CCW’s go up? What about ammunition proposals that take place? How do those trends link to CCW? This information allows us to compare databases, search for trends, demographics, socio-economic and partisan trends. It allows us to do more nuanced reporting,” explained Cooper.
She said after the Sheriff’s letter went public, many people contacted the Chronicle asking questions. She said the reporter named in the letter also received personal threats. That’s when she reached out to speak with the Sheriff.
“I explained to him that he unnecessarily put our newsroom in an amount of danger, according to our security experts. We’ve had to increase our security in a way that I have not seen since becoming an editor here, which is unfortunate,” said Cooper.
The Editor-In-Chief admits, there is no way to know where those threats originated. However, she says Butte and Sutter, whose sheriff posted a similar letter to the department’s social media page, were the only two counties she is aware of, in the state, in with the Sheriffs alerted CCW permit holders of the request.
“We made this information known to them, and I stand behind that,” explained Sheriff Honea. “If someone chose to respond to that with threats; I want to go on the record: that is inappropriate and not something our CCW holders should be engaged in.”
Both Sheriff Honea and Cooper say the conversation they had was amicable and productive. The Sheriff explained his concerns about personal information being turned over. The Editor-In-Chief said the newspaper was not seeking to publish personal information; only use it to drill into state trends.
Cooper says the two discussed her visiting Butte County to meet with the Sheriff, and perhaps even visit a gun range.
For individuals considering applying for a concealed carry weapons permit, there is a notification on the application which clearly states, the information submitted is subject to public records requests.