Concealed Carry in Corvallis and Statewide: Unholstering the Debate, Statistics and Laws

Carrying a concealed firearm is one of the most hotly contested rights we have in this country. In Oregon, one must simply meet the requirements to get a Concealed Handgun License; the state may not limit the number of permits it hands out and may not deny one for any reason other than those laid out in the statute (ORS 166.291).

The rules are simple for Oregonians to get the right to stash a piece:

1)     No Convictions

You can’t have any felony convictions, that’s a given. But Oregon has a slightly more onerous addition than most states. A misdemeanor will disqualify you, too. So if you ever had any convictions for anything more serious than a speeding ticket, you’ll have to proudly display your holster if you want to carry in public.

2)     Over 21 and a Citizen

You have to be old enough to order a beer while you’re secretly strapping. You also have to be a citizen, or a resident alien who has been here more than six months and can provide a written statement of intent to become a citizen.

3)     No Outstanding Warrants

Perhaps you read #1 and thought, “Well I have no convictions… yet. But I am wanted in Louisville for passing bad checks. I better apply now while I’m still clean…” Sorry, no hidden gun for you.

4)     You Actually Have to Prove You Know How to Use a Gun

Per ORS 166.291 (f), you have to pass an approved gun safety course to show competence with firearms.

Concealing a firearm when in public can do a lot of different things. It can make a situation more volatile, but it could also potentially provide a disincentive to prospective criminals.

concealedcarryGun control advocates blame it for increasing gun violence. Gun rights advocates insist the opposite, that law-abiding citizens carrying concealed weapons reduces crime and gives citizens a fighting chance in the event of an incident like those that took place at Newtown, Connecticut or Aurora, Colorado.

The unsatisfying truth is that mass shootings like those, both perpetrated by mentally unstable young men, are completely unpredictable events. Statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the phrase “Black Swan” to describe events like those two tragedies: events which are completely unpredictable and anomalous, but for which we attempt, in the aftermath, to rationalize as a way to plan for the future and convince ourselves we’re in control.

One thing we do know for sure is that in the aftermath of such events, gun sales surge. Concealed Carry Permit applications do as well. This is for a mix of reasons. Some of the new sales and permits are caused by people who see the violence as a wake-up call to arm themselves. Some are from existing gun owners who feel the increased scrutiny on guns in the wake of such tragedies can only lead to the government curtailing their availability, and thus stock up.

In Oregon, Concealed Handgun Licenses increased by 11% from 2011 to 2012, reaching an all-time high in 2012 of over 152,000 licenses. That means 4% of Oregon’s population is walking around with a gun under their coat. Nearly 2,500 of those licenses belonged to Benton County residents, or roughly 3% of our total population.

This is important to bear in mind as it pertains to self defense laws in Oregon as well. As mentioned here in the Advocate last week, Oregon’s self defense law revolved around a duty to retreat, as declared by a 1982 State Supreme Court ruling. But in 2007, the State Supreme Court reversed itself, deeming there was no duty to retreat, and thus effectively creating a “stand your ground” law similar to the controversial Florida statute. With 3% of our citizens concealing firearms in public and the right to use deadly force, those in favor of restricting gun ownership are queasy about the concealed carry provisions.

In most states a licensed gun owner can carry their weapon right on their belt openly in public. To carry one’s weapon out in the open is considered part of the right to own a firearm. Carrying it out of sight is a different situation.

As of 2002, seven states banned the act of concealed carry, and 11 more made the issuing of permits at the discretion of the county sheriffs, allowing them to arbitrarily allow or reject applicants based on their own judgment. Only one state, Vermont, allowed citizens to conceal their firearms in public with no permit at all. After Columbine, 9/11 and a raft of State Supreme Court cases, fast forward to 2012.  Ten years later, there are no states that outright ban Concealed Carry. Only seven states give state officials any discretion to reject an application, and four states require no permit at all.

One can only assume the controversial Zimmerman trial verdict will result in another run on guns and concealed carry permits. With self-defense laws now under scrutiny along with Concealed Carry, I expect gun owners and prospective gun owners will get while the getting is good. Proponents of gun control insist that they do not wish to “take away their guns,” they just want to make common sense limits. But wedge strategy makes it hard for either side to trust each other’s intentions.

Alas, the cold war will continue. One side of the extreme arming itself to the teeth, the other attempting to melt down all the guns — that’s what some people would have us think, anyway. The good news is that plenty of people out there are indeed searching for a reasonable, moderate solution.

By Ygal Kaufman