SALEM — Whether sheriffs in Oregon's 36 counties must disclose the holders of concealed-handgun permits under the public-records law will hinge on a case that three Oregon Court of Appeals judges heard arguments on Friday.

SALEM — Whether sheriffs in Oregon's 36 counties must disclose the holders of concealed-handgun permits under the public-records law will hinge on a case that three Oregon Court of Appeals judges heard arguments on Friday.

The case arose after the Mail Tribune and others sought to obtain lists of people with those permits in 2007. Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters declined to make public the records of an estimated 6,500 permit holders in Jackson County, prompting the lawsuit.

A circuit judge ruled in the newspaper's favor in 2008, but Winters sought a review in the Court of Appeals — and its ruling would apply statewide.

Benjamin Bloom, a Medford lawyer representing Winters, said the sheriff was asserting both a right of privacy for the permit holders, much as people with the AIDS virus have under a specific state law, and reasons of personal security.

"These are private matters, often stigmatizing," Bloom said. "People have strong opinions about them."

He said under the state's public-records law, either the government agency or the affected individual can raise privacy issues.

As for personal security, he said, "this is not a sporting event."

"We do not agree that having your name associated with a concealed-weapons permit subjects you to a stigma," said Tim Jackle, a Medford lawyer representing the Mail Tribune.

Jackle said at the time, applicants for concealed-handgun permits acknowledged on their forms that their information was subject to the state public-records law.

Since the 2008 ruling in Jackson County, sheriffs in Oregon's 36 counties have changed their application forms to remove the language about potential disclosure — and to advise applicants they must basis their requests on "personal security concerns," which the law requires them to demonstrate.

The controversy dates to 2007, after a Medford teacher, Shirley Katz, applied to bring a legally concealed handgun to school. A different Court of Appeals panel ruled Nov. 18 that the school district had the authority to restrict weapons on campuses, but returned that case to Jackson County for further proceedings.

The Mail Tribune requested a copy of the teacher's concealed weapons permit when the newspaper first learned of her request to bring a gun to school. Winter's denied the request.

Jackle said part of the newspaper's intent in requesting the permits was to see how Winters was carrying out the 1989 law that requires sheriffs to issue concealed-handgun permits to applicants who qualify.

"The public has a right to know how their government operates," Jackle said. "We think overseeing that function serves a public purpose."

The Mail Tribune's editor, Bob Hunter, has previously said the newspaper did not plan to publish the names of permit holders.

Judges Walt Edmonds, Darleen Ortega and Robert Wollheim heard the arguments on Winters' appeal for an hour Friday morning.

"The broad policy the Legislature has adopted is that disclosure is the rule, unless there is a specific exemption," Wollheim said.

However, the judges could narrow the scope of the case to the 6,500 permit holders who applied using the old forms, where they were advised about the possibility of disclosure.

There is no formal deadline for the panel to decide the case.

Sheriffs asked the state Legislature in the 2009 session for a blanket exemption from disclosure of permit holders under the public-records law.

In contrast, a law firm representing a gun-rights group requested the disclosure of permit holders.

Legislation that would have put the names off limits, unless the public interest compelled disclosure under the law, passed the Oregon House in May but died in the Senate Rules Committee without a vote. Both lawyers agreed Friday that if that bill had passed, the case heard by the Court of Appeals panel would have been different.

A related case, argued Nov. 4 and pending in the Court of Appeals, would determine whether sheriffs must issue such permits to holders of medical marijuana cards. One of those lawsuits also originated in Jackson County.

Peter Wong is a reporter with the Statesman Journal in Salem. Reach him at pwong@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6745