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MailTribune.com
  • Sheriff testifies he'll work to keep weapon carriers private

    Mail Tribune asserts names are public record and papers they sign state as much
  • Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters testified Friday in a lawsuit brought by the Mail Tribune that he will fight to keep the names of people with concealed handgun licenses private. That's despite the paper's assertion that the information is public record and was identified to permit holders as such.
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  • Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters testified Friday in a lawsuit brought by the Mail Tribune that he will fight to keep the names of people with concealed handgun licenses private. That's despite the paper's assertion that the information is public record and was identified to permit holders as such.
    "It's up to me to secure their information and records," Winters said.
    The Mail Tribune, invoking the state's public records law, had asked for a list of license holders in August as part of an investigation into news that a South Medford High School teacher had such a permit and wanted to carry her gun at school. Teacher Shirley Katz sued the Medford School District over a policy prohibiting employees from taking weapons on campus, then appealed when the policy was found valid.
    The paper requested the list of concealed handgun permit holders to research how far-reaching a ruling on her case might be, but doesn't plan to print the names, Editor Bob Hunter said. The Mail Tribune also requested Katz's license separately.
    The sheriff, whom state law authorizes to manage the county's concealed handgun license program, declined the requests, citing an exemption for information that would compromise security.
    "Something that had always been a public record, suddenly in Jackson County was not," Hunter said. He noted that in response to the Katz case, papers in Multnomah and Lane counties asked for and received concealed weapon permit information from their respective sheriffs.
    "All the counties have the same rules," he said. "It's not the sheriff's preference over state law."
    In Jackson County Circuit Court on Friday, Lew Dahlin, an attorney representing the Mail Tribune, pointed out that the county's concealed handgun permit application clearly states the information is a public record. On the stand, Sgt. Bob Grantham, who heads the sheriff's civil division and oversees the permit program, said the statement was removed from the forms in December — about two months after the Mail Tribune made its records request to Winters. He said the statement had been in place previously, as it was there when he took over the program nearly nine years ago.
    Under questioning from Benjamin Bloom, a Medford attorney representing Winters, both Grantham and the sheriff said they believed most people wanted to carry a concealed weapon for personal protection and security, although state law doesn't require people seeking a concealed weapons permit give a reason for wanting one. However, in response to Dahlin's questions, they said concealed weapons aren't part of any official county security plan.
    Bloom also argued that a Michigan case found that gun ownership is a private matter, so disclosing the permit list would violate people's privacy. Because the privacy exemption hadn't been cited in the original denial, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Phil Arnold granted additional time to review and respond to that issue.
    "Some people would want to make this known and would be proud," Arnold said, about having a concealed weapon permit. "Nothing in the application says it is private."
    Winters said that if individuals wanted to reveal whether they had permits, they could, but he didn't want to make that decision for them by releasing information from his office.
    Arnold, who also heard the Katz case, said Katz had made her information well known and included it in court records that are clearly public. He asked why the sheriff had denied the Mail Tribune's request for her permit and Bloom said the request predated Katz's disclosure.
    Now that she has already been named, "the sheriff has no interest or obligation to keep that private," Arnold said, and Bloom and Winters agreed.
    Arnold removed the Mail Tribune's request for Katz's permit from the case now before him and said it should be "complied with immediately."
    The sheriff's office declined to provide it Friday, and said records would be released when the judge issued a final decision in the case, which would apply to the full list of permit holders.
    Arnold gave Dahlin until Feb. 20 to review and respond to the new privacy argument, and Bloom until Feb. 27 to follow up on that response. Then he will issue his opinion.
    Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485 or at aburke@mailtribune.com
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