Oregon's open public records law was a fine idea when it was enacted in 1973. Over the ensuing 35 years, though, special interests have carved out so many exceptions that the law now has more holes in it than Bernie Madoff's account books.
And as if that isn't bad enough, the state legislature wants to carve another one.
State Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) and other lawmakers are backing HB 2727, a bill that would make all records pertaining to concealed weapons permits exempt from the open records requirements. The ostensible reason for it, Thatcher said, is to protect the holders of such permits from "stalkers, identity thieves and people who could otherwise do them harm."
There is, of course, no evidence whatsoever that concealed-carry permit holders have been subjected to any of that nasty stuff. In fact, if the NRA's argument that carrying a gun (or guns) protects people from criminals, we'd think folks who are packing would WANT as many people as possible to know it.
Why should concealed-carry permits be a matter of public record? The big reason isn't to know who's carrying, or may be carrying, a firearm, but rather to know who gets a permit and how.
Oregon is a "shall-issue" state, meaning that county sheriffs have to issue a concealed-carry permit to anybody who asks for one and is able to meet certain minimal qualifications. As the Source reported last July, there were 6,671 permits in Deschutes County at that time.
Or maybe there were only 6,156. That's the number the Oregon State Police gave us. The larger number was what Sheriff Larry Blanton gave us.
The discrepancy made us wonder how accurate the record-keeping on concealed-carry permits was. Unfortunately we couldn't check it out because Blanton - in defiance of state law - refused to reveal the identities of the county's permit holders. His reason? "I don't see any good" that would come from doing it.
If HB 2727 becomes law, sheriffs won't even have to make up lame excuses for not releasing such information. There will be no way for the public to know who has, or doesn't have, a concealed weapon permit.
What's much worse, there will be no way for the public to know whether their local sheriffs are doing a competent, honest, conscientious job of deciding who gets a permit. Did somebody who shouldn't have gotten a permit receive one because of a bureaucratic screw-up - or because he's the sheriff's hunting buddy? Did somebody who should have been issued a permit get turned down through an oversight - or because he's the sheriff's political or personal enemy?
We're not insinuating here that our local sheriff, or any other sheriff in Oregon, is dishonest or incompetent. But dishonesty and incompetence in public officials have, regrettably, been known to occur. And the best protection against it is to make public officials conduct public business in the clear light of day.
HB 2727 is not about protecting the rights or safety of concealed-carry permit holders. It's about protecting the asses of sheriffs in case they make a mistake - or worse. It deserves THE BOOT.