Sheriffs from across Oregon wrap up their annual conference in Bend Thursday.
The sheriffs' meeting is usually a low-key affair to catch up on training and swap stories. But this year, things are different.
Central Oregon correspondent Ethan Lindsey reports on the controversy over concealed weapons.
The debate really boils down to this: should concealed handgun licenses be public or private?
According to state law, the licenses are public records just like hunting licenses or marriage licenses.
But OPB surveyed every sheriff's office in the state, and it is clear they're all working to keep the documents private.
Larry Blanton is the Deschutes County sheriff.
Larry Blanton: "Yeah, but the example you just gave, about marriage license or something like that, there would be reason to query that. Are you really that spouse to sign the bank document? That sort of thing. As far as a concealed weapons permit, I guess the question there is to what benefit would there be to make it a public document, public record."
This whole debate surfaced in 2007 after a Medford teacher wanted to bring her legally concealed gun to school.
The Medford newspaper sued the sheriffs' office for the right to look at the concealed weapons list. The newspaper says it was looking for names of other teachers.
Mitch Southwick is Baker County sheriff and president of the Oregon State Sheriffs Association.
Mitch Southwick: "Basically this is something the press has done across the state, testing the public records law. Local reporters like testing the public records law because they feel that they have a right to know everything."
A Jackson County court found that the documents were public, and needed to be turned over to the paper.
But the ruling gave the sheriffs an opening.
The court found state law would allow for the records to be kept private under certain circumstances. That is, if the gun owners needed the licenses for "personal security concerns."
State police say gun sales and concealed license applications have increased in the past few months. That's thought to be partly because of the recession and partly because some feared a Democratic president would be less friendly to gun owners.
Tom, who wants to only be identified by his first name, owns a gun shop in Bend.
Tom: "I don't think it should be public record, no, I'm not really sure why people have the need to know that. I like to see that support from the law enforcement community and it's good to see a unified front in that regard."
There, in fact, is a unified front.
All 36 counties are adapting their concealed weapons rules to take advantage of the Jackson County ruling.
First, many sheriffs have removed language from their concealed weapons applications -- language that told the applicant the documents are subject to public records law.
And, almost every county sheriff has proactively told gun owners that if they want to remain off the public lists, they need to claim the permit for "personal security reasons."
At the same time the Jackson County issue reached a boiling point, a law firm sent requests to all the state's sheriffs asking for the names.
It turns out the law firm was acting on behalf of a gun rights group looking to add names to its mailing list.
Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon says he doesn't discrimate based on who’s making the request.
Rob Gordon: "I don't even see this as a media issue that much. That is one group that may request it. But certainly there are others, for instance, a conservative political candidate may say this is a group of people I want to send mailings to. And that's not the purpose of this list. It's very much a regulatory process, to make sure that people are unqualified don't have the legal right to carry a handgun."
In Benton County, Sheriff Diana Simpson says she will release the names to the law firm. Her county attorney told her, legally, she had to.
Diana Simpson: "I subsequently said that we were going to change our application, and allow folks to come in and submit an amended application, and we would do everything would could, except for by court order or subpoena. And we had a lot of folks come in and submit those amended applications."
Union and Clackamas Counties are releasing names on their concealed weapons lists, as well. But, at this time, most every other county will not give up the names.
Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon sent out a letter asking licensees if they got the permit for security reasons and wished to remain private. He has received 7500 responses – out of which 7498 said keep my name private.
Rob Gordon: "You know, even if the Jackson County court decision is upheld, my understanding is that if the sheriff can show each individual asked for privacy and asked for the license based on security issues, than the sheriff can withhold those. I can clearly show that now. I can take reams of requests to any court that asks that question, and show by person, by name that people answered those questions."
State law says gun owners must "demonstrate" they have a personal security concern.
Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton worries that may mean he needs more than just a couple of checked boxes on a form letter.
And that's why some sheriffs say the Jackson County court decision may not be enough.
In the end, they hope state lawmakers step in and work with them to resolve the issue.