Court hears concealed weapons records case

SALEM — A state court is considering whether sheriffs in Oregon can block public access to information about concealed handgun permits.

The Oregon Court of Appeals heard arguments Friday in a dispute that arose after news organizations and others sought to obtain lists of people with those permits as part of the public record.

Since then, sheriffs around Oregon have moved to keep that information private. The sheriffs say public disclosure would jeopardize the personal safety of permit holders.

Open government advocates say Oregonians should have the right to check to see who is getting concealed handgun permits from local sheriffs.

Nearly 110,000 Oregonians have gotten concealed handgun licenses by undergoing background checks and firearms training.

A year ago, sheriffs around Oregon began sending letters to permit holders, asking whether they wanted their identities withheld if it is requested as an Oregon public record. Sheriffs say the response was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping that information closed.

"People hold those permits for safety reasons. That's information that they would not like to be released," said Tillamook County Sheriff Todd Anderson, who is president of the Oregon State Sheriffs Association.

The case heard by the appeals court Friday stemmed from the Medford Mail Tribune's request for a list of permit holders in 2007. Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters denied the request, saying that disclosure would compromise license holders' personal security.

A lower court ruled in favor of the newspaper. Winters appealed the ruling to the state Court of Appeals.

In Friday's court arguments, Timothy Jackle, a lawyer for the newspaper, said the public interest "strongly favors" keeping the permit information open.

"The public has a right to monitor how sheriffs are making sure the permits are not being granted to people who are a danger to themselves or others," Jackle said.

Benjamin Bloom, a lawyer representing the Jackson County sheriff, said people obtain the permits for personal safety reasons and don't want to be subject to being stigmatized by having it publicly disclosed that they carry a concealed handgun.

"They expect this information to be kept confidential," Bloom told the court.

The issue came up during the Oregon Legislature's 2009 session. The House approved a bill that would have placed limits on public access to information about concealed handgun licenses, but the bill died in the Senate.

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