That was the start of a legal battle that Katz ultimately lost. It also was the start of a battle between the rights of gun owners and the right of the public to access crucial information. That battle is still going on - and the public, at this point, is losing.
Prompted by the Katz case, the Medford Mail Tribune asked the Jackson County sheriff for the names of all county residents who had concealed-carry permits. The sheriff refused. The Mail Tribune took him to court. It won, first in Jackson County Circuit Court and then in the Oregon Court of Appeals.
That should have been the end of the story, but it wasn't.
Foiled in the courts, gun advocates and the Oregon State Sheriff's Association took their case to the state legislature. Last Thursday they won a major victory when the House passed House Bill 2787, which exempts information about concealed-carry permit holders from the state's public records law.
HB 2787 is bad law in so many ways we hardly know where to begin describing them. For one thing, the core argument for it is full of holes.
"The public records law was intended [to cover] public entities and government, not the activities of private citizens," said Kevin Starrett, director of the Oregon Firearms Educational Foundation. But many activities of private citizens are, in fact, matters of public record. Property tax assessments, criminal convictions, campaign contributions, bankruptcy filings, judgments in lawsuits - information about all these things and more is available to anybody who wants to look for it. Why should concealed-carry permits be sacred?
As well as being dumb in principle, carving out a special exception to the public records law for concealed-carry permits could have serious practical consequences. If your kid's scoutmaster is packing a Glock on camping trips, wouldn't you want to know about it? If your crazy employee is bringing a .357 magnum to the job, wouldn't you want to know? Don't you think you should have a right to know?
There's an issue of accountability here too. If a sheriff, either through incompetence or corruption, is giving out concealed-carry permits to people who shouldn't have them or denying them to people who should, that's something the voters should know. But how are they supposed to know if there's no way to find out who's getting permits and who isn't?
It's distressing that HB 2787 passed by such a wide margin in the House - 42-18, with both of our local representatives, Republicans Gene Whisnant and Jason Conger (naturally) voting yes. The issue now goes to the Senate, where we hope the Democratic majority will show more respect for the public's right to know. If it doesn't, Gov. John Kitzhaber had better have that veto pen inked up and ready to go.
Meanwhile, here's a 12-gauge, double-barreled, unconcealed BOOT for this atrocious legislation and everybody who voted for it.