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MailTribune.com
  • Bill would shield concealed weapons permits

    Republicans from Rogue Valley are co-sponsors of state legislative effort
  • SALEM — A pair of state lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday that would exempt concealed handgun license information from being revealed under Oregon's public records law.
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  • SALEM — A pair of state lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday that would exempt concealed handgun license information from being revealed under Oregon's public records law.
    Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, St. Paul, Newberg, and Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, announced their bipartisan legislation as an "effort to protect gun owners."
    "Disclosure defeats the whole point of having a concealed weapons permit," Thatcher said. "The private information about these Oregon gun owners should also remain concealed."
    "Citizens deserve privacy and the general public has no legitimate interest in knowing who does and does not have a concealed weapons permit," Barker said in a release announcing House Bill 2727.
    The bill is co-sponsored by half the Oregon Legislative Assembly, and submitted on behalf of sheriffs across the state.
    Southern Oregon representatives Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, George Gilman, R-Medford, Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, and Ron Maurer, R-Grants Pass, as well as state Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, were among the co-sponsors.
    The issue has been of interest and contention in Jackson County since 2007 when the Mail Tribune requested a list of license holders' names as part of its reporting on a South Medford High School teacher who unsuccessfully sued the school district for refusing to allow her to bring a handgun onto campus.
    Her case is before the Oregon Court of Appeals.
    Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters denied the Mail Tribune's request, arguing that the records are not public because disclosure would compromise license holders' personal security. The paper responded with a suit against Winters for failure to release public records.
    A Jackson County judge ruled in favor of the newspaper and Winters agreed to release the handgun license issued to South Medford teacher Shirley Katz, who had already revealed her identity.
    Jackson County then appealed the case to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which has yet to make a ruling.
    Mail Tribune Editor Bob Hunter said if a law similar to HB 2727 had been in place in 2007, it would have prevented the need to pursue litigation.
    "Our dispute with the sheriff was over whether or not this was a public record," Hunter said Tuesday. "It's pretty clear right now that under current state law concealed weapons permits are public record."
    Sheriffs throughout the state, including Winters, have raised the issue in letters to citizens with concealed handgun licenses. Winters' letter asked permit holders whether they wanted their names disclosed if the information was requested as an Oregon public record and whether they sought the license as a personal safety measure.
    Hunter said he welcomes legislation that would prevent sheriffs from trying to work around state law.
    "Our issue was that the sheriff should not get to decide what is a public record and what's not," Hunter said.
    Hunter added he does not view the legislation as a move away from disclosure in cases with an overriding public interest. He said he hopes any bill that passes will include oversight on the sheriffs that administer the concealed handgun licenses.
    "The value of it to the general public is somewhat questionable except in extreme circumstances," Hunter said. "There needs to be safeguards both in the permitting process and for the public in their concerns about whether a person has a permit or should have a permit."
    Attempts to reach Winters were unsuccessful Tuesday.
    Last fall, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department began including a confidentiality request form with its new concealed handgun license application. The form states that the applicant is submitting the information on the condition that it is kept confidential.
    Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon, in November, wrote to 10,000 permit holders asking whether they want their information disclosed if it is requested under Oregon's public records law. Gordon's letter came in response to the Jackson County ruling that determined license holders' names are public if they have not documented that their permit is for security reasons.
    "CHL information should remain private to protect them from potential victimization and becoming used in a negative way by folks who may disagree with the CHL holders' constitutional and statutory rights," Gordon said in a press release. "I believe the bill will reduce or eliminate unnecessary litigation and save the taxpayers unnecessary expense."
    Sponsor Thatcher said the bill aims to protect concealed handgun license holders and to clarify state public records law.
    She said she expects measures that would ensure accountability and oversight will be discussed as the bill moves through the legislative process.
    "We have some of the toughest background checks in the nation as far as qualifying for CHL permits," Thatcher said. "There is a lot of support for this legislation. Hopefully it can pass in a form that is acceptable to everybody."
    Bob Albrecht is a freelance writer living in Eugene. Reach him at ralbrec1@uoregon.edu.
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