Weapons permit bill's not a bad idea

Editor's note: The following editorial is a slightly revised version of a commentary first posted on Editor Bob Hunter's blog.

Not surprising: Legislators in Salem are trying to pass legislation (House Bill 2727) that would exempt concealed-weapons permits as public records, meaning the public — and the press — could not find out who has a permit to carry a concealed gun.

Perhaps surprising to some: We're not opposed to the general idea. We're not sure there is an overwhelmingly compelling argument that individuals who carry concealed weapons must make that public.

There certainly are circumstances in which it would be appropriate — and interesting — to know whether someone has a concealed-weapons permit, but those cases seem few and far between. Barring some evidence that there's a problem, the individual's privacy right wins out over the rights of the rest of us to know that he or she is carrying.

The Mail Tribune is in the middle of this debate because we asked to see the concealed-weapon permit of Shirley Katz, the Medford teacher who wanted to bring her gun to school. When we were denied access to the record, we checked out the law and realized that Sheriff Mike Winters had no legal backing to say the records are not public. It soon became evident that Shirley Katz did in fact have — or at one time had — a concealed-weapons permit, so that became a moot point.

Our larger point was that the sheriff needed to follow the law — and the public-records law does not exempt concealed-weapons permits. We have said all along that it's up to the Legislature to change that, not the sheriff. A judge agreed with us; that decision has been appealed by the sheriff. So now the Legislature is taking on the issue. While we have no big disagreement with the idea of making the records exempt, there are a couple of conditions we think should be included:

  • There should be built-in oversight to check on the approvals or denials. As it now stands, a sheriff makes the decision and a copy of the permit is passed on to the Oregon State Police for storage. But the OSP does not review the permits in any significant way, which leaves the system open to potential abuse or mistake by a sheriff. There should be a secondary check by the OSP to ensure that the sheriff's approval or denial was appropriate.
  • There should be a means for a citizen to raise a concern about a concealed-weapons permit holder, much as a citizen now can raise a concern about an apparent problem driver. Because the record would not be available, there would be no way for a neighbor or a co-worker or even a casual observer to know if a person had permission to carry a concealed weapon. If there are concerns over the person's behavior, there should be an explicit process to follow in asking your local sheriff's office to check it out and and to get back to you with a message that the issue had been addressed.

If those two safeguards were included in the legislation (they were not in the bill as it was filed), we'd say pass it.

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