Thursday, December 11, 2008

Concealed Carry Permits Should Remain Private

There is an on-going attempt in Oregon to allow "outing" witch hunts of concealed handgun license (CHL) holders. News organizations and some unspecified groups are requesting lists of all holders from county sheriffs. (The Oregon Firearms Federation has several good synopses of the ongoing controversy on their website.)

Raul Ramirez, CEO of the Oregon State Sheriff's Association, weighed in recently with an opinion piece arguing that concealed carry permit (CHL) holders should be entitled to privacy. In that regard, it's hard not to agree with him.

Quoting Ramirez:
"Sunshine and transparency is central to American democracy, as is the oversight role of the press. This does not mean that every public record should be subject to review by all who request it . . . Those with legitimate need for a gun permit will not want that need, their name and address, and the fact that they carry a weapon to become known publicly. Indeed, disclosure would defeat the purpose of the concealed weapon permit. The point of having the permit is to be able to be armed safely without public knowledge.

Privacy of this information makes sense! The information should be deemed private in the case of any permit holder. To do otherwise invites trouble, whether it be aggression directed at an armed permit holder or a burglary in search of firearms."

I couldn't agree more. When it comes to the right to privacy, I can't think of any compelling reason to grant public access to knowledge about who has or hasn't obtained a CHL for the purposes of self-defense or even simply to exercise their constitutional rights.

To back up, the current controversy in Oregon began with the famous case of the Medford teacher who sought to carry a concealed weapon at work due to a belief that her husband was stalking her. As a result, the following occurred:

"The lists have always been available under Oregon's Public Records Law but the issue drew major controversy last year when a Medford teacher with a CHL got national attention when she wanted to carry her gun at school.

The story prompted reporters to ask for a list of every permit holder in the county and -- after a court battle -- they got those names.But the court also decided that because of concerns for personal safety anyone who has a CHL can choose to keep their name off the list, and that's exactly what the Linn County sheriff is offering." (Source - KPTV, Oregon)

To my thinking, having to fill out additional forms to keep your name off a list is absurd. It seems that in such a case, people without permits would still be identified as not having them while people with them but not on the list would be identified as having them. So the only time a record's request would be denied would be in cases where someone is on the list but asked to have that information kept private. Will this really be that hard for people to figure out? I doubt it.

A recent opinion piece on took up the issue with the following statement:

"But I'm surrounded by thousands of people bearing handguns, and apparently I do not have the right to know who these people are (I'm not sure how Multnomah County is handling this). Yes, the right to possess guns and other weapons is contitutionally [sic] protected, but so are other rights for which citizens must be responsible. Abuse the right of free speech, and you can pay in court. Abuse the right to bear arms, and another human being may die. I can let evil words slip past me, but I have no protection when someone, especially someone who succumbs to fear, chooses to aim a gun my way."

Conflating or intentionally confusing the act of legally carrying a weapon with "abuse" or the desire to threaten people is especially galling, but not perhaps atypical (most of the comments in response to the author took him to task for these insinuations.) These statements recall to mind the over the top hysteria about gun violence escalating back when Oregon adopted the concealed carry law. The violence hasn't happened--and most studies show a strong correlation between concealed carry laws and a drop in crime--and I truly believe the author of the quote above is made safer by the "thousands of people" quietly, legally and responsibly carrying firearms around him.

You might ask, why not just carry openly? In Oregon, it is currently legal to openly carry firearms in most circumstances. However, unless you're actively engaged in hunting at the time, this simply isn't culturally acceptable even if it is legally acceptable. It's also arguably provocative to wander around flaunting a gun (and more than likely to attract unwanted attention of all types, including police harassment.) Try dropping your kid off at school with a six-shooter on your hip and see what the public reaction is if you don't believe me. Concealed carry, while also turning crime into a guessing game for the criminals, is also less provocative and more civil. The desire to "out" people exercising their right to carry concealed seems to be driven more by a desire for decidedly uncivil political power over them in order to press the anti-gun agenda. Witch hunts and attempts to expose or intimidate people for legal, constitutionally protected behavior--including exercising the right to privacy for non-public individuals--is not democratic with a big or small "d."

If government allows witch hunts or public intimidation of people trying to exercise their constitutional rights, it comes close to any definition of "infringement" that I can think of. In my opinion, the sensible thing to do is to treat CHL permits like any other privacy issue. Just because you go to a publicly funded clinic doesn't make your medical records public knowledge. Just because you decide to exercise your constitutional rights to bear arms doesn't mean the whole world needs to be able to find out about it from a quick google search.

I recommend contacting your local sheriffs and also your state legislators to let them know your feelings on this one.


Flatpik said...

There was a discussion of this topic on OPB radio this morning and a number of good follow-up posts on the OPB blog.

Chuck Butcher said...

Good article Zak, this is really stupid idea.

EthanPDX said...

The OPB call-in show was pretty good. I have posted requests, and would encourage you all to do the same, for the show to cover gun issues.

It has become apparent to me that one of the goals of "Think Out Loud" is to provide content of more interest to rural Oregon than Market Place, Fresh Air and ATC.

Here's the December suggestion page.