The Cherokee Scout of Murphy, North Carolina, has printed an absolutely groveling apology to its readers and to the local sheriff for even asking the sheriff for public records of those with concealed carry gun permits. Publisher David Brown writes, "We never meant to offend the wonderful people of this community," in a letter noticed by media blogger Jim Romenesko. Again, this is discussing public records that, according to North Carolina law, the sheriff legally is legally required to make public. The editor who made the public records request was subsequently threatened on Facebook.
Last week Cherokee Scout editor Robert Horne asked sheriff Keith Lovin for a list of locals seeking concealed carry permits. Lovin ignored state law and denied the request. He also posted the letters on the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office Facebook page, a space that appears to be used primarily to post photos of good-looking locals involved in meth busts and robberies. Facebook commenters were furious. "Didn't they do this up north a couple of months ago. It was a fiasco," one commenter asked. (The answer is sort of: The Journal News, in suburban New York, published a map of locals licensed to own handguns.) The outcry was big enough to get covered by other local news outlets. Here's a Facebook comment that was likely exactly what Lovin was looking for: "Thank you Sheriff Lovin for your patriotism and high morale caliber! Will definitely be voting for you again!"
Publisher Brown initially had a different tone. "We should have expected Sheriff Keith Lovin's posting of his correspondence with Editor Robert Horne, because he knows he can't win in a court of law but wants to win in the court of public opinion," he wrote in a letter on February 21. But he was already looking to calm down readers. "The truth is… we never had any desire nor intention to publish any names of any person carrying a concealed weapon."
Gun owners' fear of being publicly named as gun owners might seem strange given how popular National Rifle Association bumper stickers are. There is a special irony in Horne getting threats on Facebook for wanting to know public information. If you're willing to attach your name to actually threatening to commit a crime against a person, why would you be scared of your name being attached to the legal ownership of a gun? If you, say, threaten to shoot someone, wouldn't you be proud to make it public knowledge that you actually own the weapon to do it?
But The Cherokee Scout decided it did not want to fight this battle. Instead, it groveled. 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.
Sheriff Keith Lovin had the best interests of the people of Cherokee County at heart when he denied our request. The Scout would like to offer an apology to him as well.
To that end, Editor Robert Horne spoke with Lovin on Friday morning to tell him we were withdrawing our public records request. He asked for a written copy of request, and Horne dropped it off at his office that morning.
While Horne was on the phone with the sheriff, he also thanked him and his staff for their quick response when some people who saw Facebook posts started making personal threats against him. Horne also requested a sit-down meeting in the near future to iron out any issues between the Scout and the sheriff’s office, which Lovin graciously accepted.
The apology notes that many readers asked where Horne, the offending editor, is from. The publisher assures them that Horne is from a small-town in Georgia -- no big-city gun-grabber here:
Many of you have asked where Horne is from. He is from a small town in south Georgia — Cairo, Ga., to be exact. It is a rural area much like Murphy, and his roots are helping him better understand this community.