I am writing to you to strongly encourage you to introduce and support legislation to protect the privacy and safety of concealed handgun license (CHL) holders in Oregon. Records of who does and does not have a CHL should not be available to anyone who wants to see them, and the lists of CHL holders should not be available to the press for review or publication. Current law, unfortunately, is ambiguous on this point, and the privacy of CHL holders from scrutiny by the press or potential employers is not currently protected.
As I expect you are aware as a long-time supporter of gun owners' rights, there is an on-going controversy in Oregon on this issue. The current controversy began as a result of the Medford Mail Tribune's lawsuit filing to discover whether teachers or school board members in Jackson Co. were CHL holders, but that lawsuit has much wider implications. Unfortunately, the current legal status of CHL privacy is not clear. Currently, it up to each county sheriff to determine their own policy. Most sheriffs, including the sheriffs of Jackson Co. and my own county (Multnomah) have decided not to release CHL records at this time, but the legal standing for them to continue to do this long-term is not settled. In some counties (Washington), the sheriffs have decided only to keep the records private if specifically requested to do so; but this policy is flawed because the only time a "request denied" would come back would be when the individual was a CHL holder who had requested privacy!
Because of the Oregon legislature's position (sensible, in my opinion) to make gun laws consistent and uniform throughout Oregon, I believe CHL-holder privacy is an important issue for the legislature to take timely action on. I and the gun-owners I have spoken with overwhelmingly believe that CHL holder records should not be released to the general public or to the media.
Raul Ramirez, CEO of the Oregon State Sheriff's Association, nicely summed up many of the reasons for CHL privacy when he wrote:
"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." (Source: http://www.salem-news.com/articles/december042008/weapons_permits-12-4-08.php)
I would add to Mr. Ramirez's reasons the following: the Internet and "blogging" journalism has increasingly blurred the line between who is and is not a legitimate journalist. There are little to no controls over bloggers and what the choose to publish. Leaving records of CHL holders open to searches by anyone--even those claiming press credentials--invites likely "outing" of CHL holders. (I have written further information on my reasoning on the blog of the Gun Owners Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon, here: http://bluesteeldemocrats.blogspot.com/2008/12/concealed-carry-permits-should-remain.html).
The actions of both the Medford Mail Tribune and the local Medford school board suggest that if CHL permits are treated as public records there will be nothing to prevent both public and private employers from checking job applicants' public records to see who has a CHL and to then deny employment (whether openly or unofficially) to anyone whose name they find on the roles.Further, given the current controversy, I think it's very likely that companies or government agencies may begin CHL reviews as part of their job screening process (if they are not doing already.) This would leave employees subject to hidden penalties as a result of simply exercising their civil and legal rights.
The controversy with the Medford Mail Tribune asking for records of all CHL holders was in response to a single teacher in Medford declaring publicly that she intended to bring a firearm into the classroom for self-protection. But this case is irrelevant to the larger issue of privacy. Whether or not local school boards may implement policies to ban employees from bringing firearms to work is a separate matter that should not mean that CHL holders as a class forfeit their rights to privacy simply because one of them might be violating a policy of either a public or private employer.
I believe CHL permits are in the same category as medical history--they are a record of an individual's personal, not public, profile, and they should remain such.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
I hope that all of you please consider writing similar letters to your legislators. Here is a link: