Within the past week we have enjoyed a big stride forward in the protection of our Second Amendment rights with the U.S. Supreme Court decision on McDonald v. City of Chicago and suffered one small stride backward in the decision Mail Tribune, Inc. v. Winters by the Oregon Court of Appeals. Both are critical legal decisions for gun rights supporters, but both will be subject to further litigation.
Just two years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia Et al v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense. However, the Court left the debate open as to whether or not those rights were protected from state infringements under the Fourteenth Amendment. On June 28, 2010, the Supreme Court further clarified in McDonald v. City of Chicago that the right to bear arms is incorporated within the Fourteenth Amendment’s “Due Process Clause.” This means a state may not deny law-abiding citizens the inalienable right to bear arms by such means as passing laws that harass gun owners or make gun ownership excessively expensive or burdensome. However, the decision does suggest that states may be able to deny those rights in very specific circumstances, such as denying those rights to felons and the mentally unstable. This is truly a victory for freedom and a step forward for all citizens who own a gun, but many battles still must be won at the state level.
We have our work cut out for us in Oregon. On June 23 the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in Mail Tribune, Inc. v. Winters that the names of those issued concealed handgun licenses (CHL) must be disclosed under Oregon’s public records law. The decision was no surprise, since it was based on an earlier ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court, which required the disclosure of public records unless an exemption is justified on an individual basis. Many county sheriffs already have taken steps to provide an exemption for CHL holders on an individual basis, asking them to sign a letter indicating that they are obtaining the license as a personal security measure. (As a side note: If you are a CHL holder and have not signed such a letter, I encourage you to contact your county sheriff’s office immediately.) The fallacy in this Court decision is that any citizen who obtains a CHL is doing so as a personal security measure. A weapon is not truly concealed if the permit to carry it is made public.
It was not until 1989 that the issuance of a CHL was required on a statewide basis if an Oregon citizen met the criteria. Until that time the proper authority in each County determined the process a citizen used to obtain a CHL in order to exercise his or her Second Amendment right. While most states require similar permits, Vermont doesn’t require a permit for a concealed weapon, recognizing that carrying a firearm is an inherent constitutional right, and only criminals and mentally unstable citizens lose the exercise of this right. By not requiring a permit, there are no public records to disclosure.
For several years now, Oregon Firearms Federation and other pro-gun lobbyists have worked with Oregon legislators to remove the requirement to obtain a license to carry a concealed handgun, arguing that it creates an unnecessary burden on both citizens and law enforcement. A law similar to Vermont’s, which provides a presumptive right to carry a firearm for all law-abiding citizens and is only revoked for those that are convicted of a crime or are mentally ill should be supported and passed by our legislature in 2011, thus eliminating any question of public disclosure.
As we celebrate a victory in the defense of our constitutional Second Amendment rights, we must continue to take diligent steps forward in the protection of those rights at every level of our government. We are “a government of the people, for the people” with the responsibility to engage in the defense of our rights when government attempts to hinder or constrain those rights. On America’s birthday over this Fourth of July weekend, we must be grateful for the foresight of our country’s Founding Fathers and the inalienable rights of which they assured every citizen of this amazing country.
Karla Kay Edwards is Rural Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute. She has held positions of leadership in numerous organizations focusing on agricultural and rural industries and issues, including the Fresno (California) Farm Bureau, Washington Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.