Oregon Attorney General John Kroger has emphasized during his tenure his goal of ensuring that people can keep track of what their government is up to.
It is a noble objective, and one we share.
We are troubled, then, when state lawmakers favor secrecy over transparency.
A current example is House Bill 2787, which the House approved last week by a 42-18 vote.
We hope that's as far as the bill goes.
HB 2787 would exempt from the state's public records law the list of
Oregonians who have received a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
Those records are available to the public now, in common with a host of
others such as marriage licenses, divorce decrees and voter
Proponents of the bill argue, among other things, that allowing the
public to see permit records would violate permit holders' privacy and,
potentially, their safety.
Burglars and other criminals, the bill's supporters say, could plunder permit records to assemble a list of potential victims.
This is a peculiar, and implausible, claim.
We can't think of many groups of people who make less attractive
targets for criminals than those who not only carry a handgun, but who
have demonstrated a certain level of proficiency with it, as required
to get the license.
A more logical and legitimate complaint is that making records public
could endanger people who obtained a concealed handgun permit because
they've been targeted by a stalker or abused by a husband or boyfriend.
But a solution to that potential problem is already available through
an Oregon Administrative Rule. That rule allows people to petition to
have their addresses, phone numbers and emails blocked from public
perusal if there's a definite connection - such as the situations we
mentioned above - between their privacy and their safety.
The bottom line here is that when the government requires a person to
obtain a license to be afforded some privilege, whether it's driving a
car, building a shed or carrying a concealed handgun, that's an
implicit acknowledgment that regulating that activity is done for the
The government issues drivers licenses, for instance, because society
doesn't want just anyone to be allowed to operate a 4,000-pound
automobile at 65 mph.
The public should be allowed, in such cases, to know who the government
has granted such a privilege to. And with good reason - when the
government messes up - by giving a license to a person who's already
killed somebody while driving drunk, say - the public deserves to know
about it so we can hold accountable the responsible officials.
That's not the best analogy to the matter of concealed handgun permits, to be sure.
We're confident that county sheriffs, who dispense the permits, by and
large do a good job of ensuring that only competent and worthy people
Yet as government-controlled privileges go, this is a serious one, with
potential ramifications for people other than the permit holder.
If your neighbor builds a shoddy shed, the roof is more likely to hurt his lawnmower than your head.
But if a sheriff makes a careless decision in approving a concealed
handgun permit, and that decision is secret, then the public airing of
the mistake isn't likely to happen until it's too late and somebody's
been hurt, or worse.
Any permitting or licensing process should remain in public view as part of citizens' rights to keep track of their government.