In late 2011, as part of a series of investigative articles I was doing on guns after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, I requested from the Oregon State Police a database of concealed handgun license holders. I was interested in evaluating how good the state’s procedures were for vetting people who wanted to carry guns and how often gun license holders went on to commit crimes, both issues that would seem especially important today in light of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.
I had planned to cross-match the data of license holders with other records on criminal convictions. But Oregon officials repeatedly delayed turning over the records, and I wound up focusing instead on the licensing process in North Carolina, where officials released the gun permit data to me right away. I discovered that about 10 percent of permit holders in North Carolina over a five-year period had gone on to commit felonies or misdemeanors. Perhaps more disturbingly, I found that the authorities had failed to revoke the permits of many of those who had been convicted of felonies.
Meanwhile, across the country in Oregon something else interesting was happening. Gun rights groups and pro-gun legislators had learned of my pending request, along with one that had been placed by The Oregonian that asked for whatever data the State Police gave to me. Alarmed, legislators swung into action and introduced a measure that would bar the release of information on the identities of gun license holders in most cases.
Throughout the debate over the legislation, the specter of The New York Times getting this information was invoked repeatedly. In the end, the legislation sailed through and was signed into law in April 2012 by the governor.