Shots Fired: Local Gun Activity Kept Quiet

About three weeks ago, gunshots were fired on Van Buren Street. Four, maybe five shots cut through the quiet of my neighborhood at 4 a.m., located in a heavily populated area of Corvallis. After hitting the deck, crawling upstairs, and calming down a bit, I battled with the idea of calling the police. Ultimately, I decided not to, due to self-doubt and a fear of being questioned or having to follow-up with officers for what I assumed would be a fruitless investigation. As far as I could tell (and probably for the same reasons), no one else reported the shots or came to investigate the area, and no police reports were posted online. No one else was even talking about it. 

While it may be unlikely that law enforcement would have been able to trace these shots -— in a world where gun violence is rapidly rising — the general lack of awareness and attention, and even apathy by some bystanders, surrounding this incident and others (detailed below), leaves me questioning the state of local gun laws, police and media transparency, and level of community engagement.

Other Incidents
Gun safety is not a new concern in Corvallis. A few months ago, a man armed with a shotgun was seen walking near Fred Meyer, and while there was a large police presence in the area, no reports were filed publicly. There was nothing in the news, and people simply going to the grocery store were being stopped on the streets, told to put their hands up, and questioned by police. 

Back in April, a suspect was arrested near 11th Street for threatening someone with a handgun during an altercation, and a juvenile was apprehended after shooting at a moving vehicle, and before being caught, throwing the firearm into the playground of the Montessori School. With so many schools in close proximity to these incidences, the safety of our students makes a conversation on local gun regulation and safety measures ever more pressing.

Local Gun Laws
Gun laws have not been addressed in Corvallis since 2015, when the City adopted two vague and seemingly redundant policies on community safety and constitutional rights. Both policies deem violence, the threat of violence, intimidation, and/or tumultuous behavior as unacceptable by community standards. This was following an incident the year prior involving a man with a firearm being spotted in Cloverland Park. 

While it is indeed illegal to discharge a weapon within city limits, residential areas, and within urban growth boundaries without legal cause — meaning hunting, target practice, or self-defense — what do our laws say about firearms, and what duties, responsibilities, and limitations do they pose on gun owners?

According to the Oregon Revised Statutes, concealed carry is legal in Oregon with a concealed handgun license, which can be obtained by completing a gun-safety course and by paying the appropriate fees. According to Oregon law, a handgun which is openly carried in a belt holster is not considered to be concealed. There are many factors that exclude individuals from legal gun ownership, including status as a minor, mental illness, and conviction within four years of various crimes that are violent, reckless, or sexual in nature. 

Cities in Oregon do have the right to restrict open carry of loaded firearms and many places have done so, including Portland, Beaverton, Tigard, Oregon City, Salem, and Independence. Background checks are necessary for anyone when buying from a firearms dealer; however, while 21 is the legal age for handgun possession, anyone over 18 can buy long guns, like rifles and shotguns. The laws get fuzzy when it comes to carrying firearms and whether or not they are loaded. 

Additionally, the ORS website is difficult to navigate. The legal jargon appears ambiguous and inaccessible in its defining of lawful carry. With a new version set to be coming out later this year and at least a dozen bills introduced to the Oregon legislature dealing with firearms or ammunition, it will be interesting to see what’s in store for Oregon gun law.

Unreported Crimes
Unreported unlawful activity is a large part of the problem when it comes to public safety. Citizens generally do not want to be questioned about a crime, and anonymity is a frequent concern when calling the police. Because of this and the bystander effect — when a group of bystanders each assumes one of the others will call in a crime — many crimes go unreported.  

In order to report a crime, you must provide personal information. Currently, there is no way to do so anonymously. The Corvallis Police Department usually offers a way to file a report online, but it is down while CPD updates their system. While their website states reporting would be back up by May 24, the service is still unavailable and it is unclear as to whether this form would allow for an anonymous report. 

Next Steps
Given these recent incidents and the increase in gun violence throughout the country, perhaps the City of Corvallis needs to start a new conversation. Additionally, we can put more pressure on our police and media to report these incidents to the public. The community can raise their awareness too, by spreading information through social media or using other conversational tools. 

Steps should be taken so the public is better informed, and better protected. And time seems of the essence; the number of school and mass shooting incidents have skyrocketed in recent years — and there were almost 40,000 total gun deaths in 2018 — the highest number in 50 years.

By: Laine Aswad