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Concealed handgun licence bill dies

A bill that would have placed limits on public access to information about concealed-handgun licenses died quietly when the Legislature adjourned Monday.

Sen. Alan Bates, an Ashland Democrat, said the bill, which was passed overwhelmingly in the House, had languished in the Senate Rules Committee.

"I think so much was going on we didn't have time to get into it," he said.

The bill would have provided some clarity to an ongoing legal dispute between the Mail Tribune and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department over the ability to access concealed handgun licenses as part of the public record.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters expressed disappointment that the Legislature didn't resolve the issue, saying he supported the bill, which would have provided limited access to information about a concealed-handgun permit under certain circumstances.

"I think there will be a legislative fix to it at some point," said Winters. "It's my opinion that people are going to put a lot of pressure on senators and other folks to get it done."

The sheriff had denied the Mail Tribune's request for a list of permit holders in 2007, arguing 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, citing Oregon public records law.

A Jackson County judge ruled in favor of the newspaper, but Winters appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals, which hasn't set a date to hear the case.

The disagreement arose after South Medford teacher Shirley Katz wanted to bring a concealed weapon to school. After the first court ruling, Winters agreed to release the handgun license issued to Katz after she already had revealed her identity.

Winters said letters sent out to 105,000 people who have concealed-handgun permits in the state elicited an overwhelming response in favor of keeping their identities withheld from public scrutiny, which he also supports.

"We need to protect the safety and security of the people who hold those permits," said Winters.

The concealed-handgun application Winters formerly used had a disclaimer indicating the information was public record.

Winters said most of the people who signed the forms probably assumed the information might be shared among public-safety organizations, such as the Oregon State Police or local police departments. However, he said they didn't expect the information to be shared with the public at large.

Winters since has removed that disclaimer from the application and has added a confidentiality request form. The form states the applicant is submitting the information on condition it be kept confidential.

"Our concern all along was that the sheriff did not follow state law in withholding the concealed-weapons permits," Mail Tribune Editor Bob Hunter said. "We didn't oppose the measure before the Legislature because we recognize there are privacy concerns. But the Legislature needs to change the law; it's not up to the sheriffs to selectively enforce it."

Dave Burright, temporary executive director of the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association, said sheriff's departments in the 36 counties around the state will be more reluctant to release any concealed handgun permits because the owners of these permits responded to letters saying it would infringe on their privacy.

In general, sheriffs don't think the information should be released to the public, he said.

Without any direction from the Legislature, Burright said sheriff's departments will have to rely on a court ruling to resolve the issue, but will ultimately abide by the decision.

"If the courts ruled that's what the Constitution said, then that's what they'll do," he said.