SALEM — The Oregon House overwhelmingly approved a bill Monday to limit public access to information about concealed handgun license holders.
The issue arose after the Mail Tribune and other news organizations sought to obtain lists of people with those licenses.
On a 54-4 vote, the House backed the measure with supporters asserting that public disclosure of that information would jeopardize the personal safety of concealed handgun license holders.
Under the bill, the concealed handgun license information would be exempt from disclosure under Oregon's open records law unless someone can make a compelling case that the public interest would be served by opening it. Local sheriffs would decide on a case-by-case basis.
One of those who voted against the measure, Rep. Larry Galizio, said there's no compelling reason to make it so difficult for citizens to check to see who is getting concealed handgun licenses from local sheriffs.
"This is a classic solution in search of a problem," the Tigard Democrat said.
However, one of the chief sponsors of the bill said open records laws should be used to hold government agencies accountable, not to publicly disclose information about private citizens.
"Government records should be about government programs, and not about whether a single mom living in some remote area of the state has a permit to protect herself and her children," said Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer.
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.
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 already had revealed her identity.
Katz's case against the Medford School District has been heard by the Oregon Court of Appeals, but no opinion has yet been issued.
Last December, sheriffs around Oregon sent letters to concealed weapon license holders, asking whether they want the information released if it is requested as a public record.
Several sheriffs who testified on the bill said the response was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping those records secret.
House Bill 2727 now goes to the Senate.
Nearly 110,000 Oregonians have gotten concealed weapon licenses by undergoing background checks and firearms training.
The Mail Tribune contributed to this report.