Oct. 1—A new state law took effect Saturday that requires gun owners to lock up their firearms when they are not in their immediate control.
If a gun is not secured, makes it into the wrong hands and later is used to injure a person or property, the gun owner is liable for damages. If a minor gains unauthorized access to an unsecured gun, the owner is guilty of a Class A violation if they knew or should have known that the minor could gain access.
That may sound alarming to some, but the final language of the bill passed by the Legislature provides exceptions that protect gun owners from unwarranted penalties.
To begin with, most responsible gun owners already lock up their firearms, especially if children are present. No one wants their gun to be used for the wrong purposes or to injure or kill an innocent person.
But what if your minor child obtains your gun to protect themselves from an intruder and shoots the person? You're not liable for that person's injuries if they result from a lawful act of self defense or the defense of another person.
If some other unauthorized person uses your gun in self-defense, you're not liable for that either.
What if a burglar breaks into your home and steals a gun, and later uses it to injure someone? Again, you're not liable for that — as long as you promptly report the gun stolen.
But wait — gun rights advocates generally oppose any kind of registration of their firearms for fear that the authorities could at some future time use that information to confiscate guns from the public. The new law even provides for that concern. You have to report the theft of a gun, yes. But the language of the law says, "A person may include the serial number of the firearm in a report under this subsection (emphasis added)." It says "may," not "shall." Don't want to give police the serial number? You don't have to.
The new law also prohibits carrying a gun into the state Capitol or the Portland airport, even with a concealed handgun license. It allows other entities such as public colleges and school boards to adopt similar rules, but does not require them to.
Even there, the law treats concealed carry licenses differently. A person convicted of violating the no-gun rule at the Capitol or the Portland airport is guilty of a Class C felony. But if they are licensed to carry a concealed handgun, it's only a Class A misdemeanor.
Finally, what about cars? There, too, guns must be locked away in the trunk or console if not being carried by or under the control of the owner. A handgun left unattended in a vehicle where it is visible to persons outside the vehicle, is considered unsecured.
None of these rules infringe on the right of anyone to possess guns; they simply impose reasonable safety restrictions that ought to be observed already. The law was prompted by the 2012 shooting in the Clackamas Town Center that left two people dead. The rifle used in that shooting had been stolen after it was left unsecured with a fully loaded 30-round magazine. The owner of that gun did not report it stolen, and was not obligated to do so or to secure the weapon under Oregon law at the time.
If the new law had been in effect then, that weapon might have been secured, and those two people might be alive today.