The pistol wasn’t the first gun given to me as a gift, but it was probably the most unexpected. My father usually gives books for Christmas, and that was what I was anticipating. Dad even disguised the gun by packaging it up to look like the box had a novel inside. Imagine my surprise when, thinking I was getting a copy of the latest Book of the Month Club selection, I pulled a .22 semi-auto out of the wrapping paper. My proud parent, dressed as Santa Claus for the occasion, had a camera at ready to capture the moment.
After a minute he dropped the camera in disgust, “You’re holding that gun like a nun holds a cock,” Dad told me. “You have to grip that thing.”
Dad never took me shooting as a kid, though he did take my brother out several times. But when he found out that my then-boyfriend — let’s just call him Bob — had given me not only a 12-gauge shotgun but an SKS semi-automatic rifle with an ammo clip of unusual size, and that Bob had begun to drag me to various spots out in Bureau of Land Management forests around Lane County to murderize innocent beer cans and paper targets, Dad decided I needed something small that I could carry around with me for personal protection.
Bob was thrilled. He regarded the .22 as something we could practice with before he bought me something with a bigger caliber.
Years later, Bob, his arsenal of firearms and I have long since parted ways. I’m still a bit ambivalent about guns. I like target shooting. I admire my friends who hunt and kill their own game. But in the wake of this summer’s mass shooting in Colorado, and in view of the fact that each time Obama has gotten elected gun sales have spiked, you can’t help but to wonder just how easy it is to get a permit to pack a pistol around. In Oregon, you can get a license to carry a concealed handgun without even really knowing how to shoot. According to the most recent statistics, more people died in Oregon in 2009 from gunfire than died in car accidents.
Concealed carry coupons
In order to get a concealed weapons permit in Oregon, you have to demonstrate “handgun competency,” among other things. You can do this by taking a class. No sooner had I thought about looking into the concealed handgun license (CHL) issue than emails showed up in my inbox cheerfully informing me Groupon and Living Social were each offering coupons for handgun classes with Oregon Concealed.
“Grizzlies and pandas aren’t the only ones with the right to bear arms,” the Living Social ad punned badly, “Get your paws on today’s deal from Oregon Concealed and catch a four-hour gun safety course for $35 (regularly $70).”
Not really sure of a better way of selecting a weapons class, I went for it. A $35 class, a $65 application fee for the permit, and as long as I passed a criminal background check I should be good to go. The permit application says you have to be a citizen — or declare in writing to the Immigration and Naturalization Service that you intend to become one — you must be over 21, you can’t have any outstanding arrest warrants, or be a unlawful drug user, a registered sex offender, stalker or felon, nor have had a misdemeanor conviction in the last four years, be on pre-trial release or found to be mentally ill and you can’t have been dishonorably discharged from the military.
Meet all those requirements and under Oregon law once you get your license, you can bring your concealed weapon into most public areas and buildings. That includes schools, according to Don Leach, the attorney and self-professed former coal miner and Cold War spy who taught the class I took on a rainy Saturday morning in November. Leach informed us that he brings his gun to football games. “One gun if it’s a Ducks game, but two if it’s the Beavers,” he chuckled. They aren’t searching you at the gate for guns, he informed me and 11 other class members, including one other woman, at the Village Green hotel in Cottage Grove; they are searching you for alcohol, and that, Leach said, is just so they can make money selling you beer.
While you can bring your gun to public schools, K-12 and higher ed, according to Leach, you can’t bring your concealed weapon into federal buildings such as courthouses or post offices. You also can’t carry a loaded firearm while riding a snowmobile.
Don’t be stupid
“If you are awake and don’t say something stupid, you get your certificate,” Leach told us. There was no test, though if you want to skip class, Oregon Concealed offers an online video and test that you can take instead of class.
Actually, you have to say something “really stupid,” Leach clarified, in order to ensure that the class felt comfortable asking questions and sharing gun stories.
That is how I learned some people in this town think you can make a silencer for a gun by putting a potato over the end of the barrel. This is apparently a better way to blow up your gun than it is to silence it. In the interests of learning about gun safety we also watched YouTube videos of people shooting their own feet, almost shooting their heads off and whacking themselves in the face with the recoil from their pistols.
When Leach flashed a photo of a happy looking baby teething on the handle of a revolver, I was sure some horror story would ensue. The baby, one of Leach’s 21 grandkids, as it turns out, was actually an example of a kid wearing good ear protection at firing range, and the gun was unloaded.
Leach, his wife, Linda, and their two sons run Oregon Concealed. Leach’s grandkids appear in gun safety videos. Don Leach is a self-described older gentleman with some health issues, which is probably directly related to at least one of a list of handy quotes he gave out at the beginning of the class: “Don’t pick a fight with an old man. If he’s too old to fight, he will just kill you.”
Leach has a folksy charm, calling those who might find themselves on the other end of your loaded weapon “Bad Guys” and peppering the course with tales of gunshots gone wrong and CHL bearers successfully defended. Linda, friendly and efficient, sat in the back of the hotel conference room doing paperwork — processing coupons, selling books, fingerprinting people.
An Oregon permit means you can carry your concealed weapon in 13 other states including Alaska, Montana and Vermont. But if that’s not enough for you, a couple extra dollars, a photo and fingerprints (those are the ones cheerfully taken by Linda during class) will get you a Utah permit, which is recognized in 33 other states. But wait, there’s more! The class also qualifies you for an Arizona permit which allows you to pick up another couple states. Oregon, on the other hand, does not give other states reciprocity, Leach said, meaning that their permits are no good here.
Since I wasn’t envisioning any cross-county trips with a pistol strapped to my thigh, I decided to pass on the Utah and Arizona options.
Lock and load
To get the concealed license in Lane County, once you’ve taken your course — online, at a hotel or at a gun range — and get your certificate, you fill out the county’s application, get two friends to agree to be character references — the form suggests you tell them that you are doing this — and head down to the Sheriff’s Office to pay your fee, give them your ID and get fingerprinted. In 30 days or so, if you pass the background check, you get your license.
While it is required that you take a handgun safety course, you do not actually need to have shot a gun. Leach brought in an array of handguns to class ranging from a cute little revolver with a folding grip to another, much larger, revolver dubiously called a “Judge” that was capable of shooting shotgun shells. He popped magazines and rolled out cylinders to show how to check each one was not loaded. We then moved on to a discussion and photos of how to hold your handgun. Note to Jack Bauer: Leach says you are doing it wrong, but he’s OK with it “because in real life you don’t over-intellectualize it; you just get it done.”
Leach covers a lot in four hours, and for those who didn’t take notes as avidly as I did, he also gave handouts. And a DVD, featuring all the YouTube accident videos and more. And he wrote and published a book that can be yours for only $14.95.
My home is (not) my castle
One of the first rules Leach taught is a play on the former military policy. Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Don’t show.
Don’t ask if someone is carrying, don’t tell people if you are carrying and don’t let your concealed weapon show. He also brought to class some purses, holsters and other means of hiding your gun on your person. Fond of threes, he stressed practice, practice, practice — using cheaper ammo for that and more expensive (and deadly) hollow points for when you mean business. Practice with the good stuff too, so you know how it feels to shoot it, but the more deadly stuff is also more spendy.
Leach didn’t recommend you just start plugging away at the “Bad Guys.” He recommended that you start with a “less lethal” alternative for your first response. After that have a gun. The largest caliber you can shoot well, he said. Then have another gun. And extra ammo for each gun. Know the law. “Know how to dial 911 and use it before you need it. Police are just there for clean up.”
Let’s say you kill someone, Leach said. He instructed us to say, “I feared for my life.” Or if it was someone else in danger, “I feared for Bob’s life.” After that you just demand a lawyer and say nothing else.
In Oregon, Leach told us, we don’t really have a “castle doctrine.” In other words, just because someone breaks into your house doesn’t mean you get to kill him. You have to fear for your life or that of another. But for example, let’s say you go in your bedroom and there’s someone hiding behind a curtain who’s not supposed to be there: “I’d be putting holes in that curtain — at least 15 of them.” He added, “I’d rather be tried by 12 than carried by six.”
Leach cited 21 feet as the range within which you need to react to a “Bad Guy.” Melinda McLaughlin of the Eugene Police Department says it’s actually even larger — 30 feet. McLaughlin says that statistic comes from the Force Science Institute, a scientific research group that examines deadly force. She says the research shows it “takes less time for a person who is armed with a knife to assault someone within 30 feet, or sometimes even more, than it would take for [the other] person to recognize the threat and draw a weapon for a defensive use.”
Though Leach wasn’t the most trusting fellow when it comes to the cops — he told several tales of run-ins, in all of which he came away the winner and the police looked like dorks — McLaughlin says, “Most CHL holders get a CHL because they are complying with the law and officers know that.”
Buying and selling
Concealed handguns aside, a lot of men seem impressed when they find out I have an SKS rifle. Picture an AK-47 and that will give you an idea of what the gun looks like, and no, you can’t carry it concealed; it’s too big and the license is for handguns only. Guys are less impressed when I admit I haven’t fired it or the .22 in a while. Bob stopped taking me out shooting after I started hitting the centers of the targets more than he did, though I tended to alternate hitting bulls-eyes with whacking myself in the head with the recoil of his .40 caliber Glock pistol. And without Bob I’m much less of a head-on-over-to-Bi-Mart-and-load-up-on-ammo-to-go-unload kind of girl.
The next logical thing the guys then ask is if I will sell them the SKS (ostensibly for their own girlfriends; this particular semi-auto is apparently a good chick gun).
It’s easy to get confused in the morass of federal, state, county and city gun laws. Even Mitt Romney did during the presidential election, saying at the Oct. 16 debate, “We of course don’t want to have automatic weapons, and that’s already illegal in this country to have automatic weapons.”
For those of you who aren’t gun nuts or haven’t dated one, a semi-auto automatically reloads, but fires only once when the trigger is depressed, while a fully automatic keeps firing with the trigger held down.
Romney was wrong; it’s actually not illegal to own an automatic rifle. There are limits on how automatic weapons are bought and sold, but it’s not illegal to own them, and the 1994 Clinton-era assault weapons ban that banned manufacturing of assault-style semi-automatic weapons, as well as high-capacity ammunition magazines, expired in 2004. The Obama administration has bandied about a discussion of renewing the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which is what has likely led to the recent post-election surge of guns and ammo purchases.
Gun purchases aren’t the only thing that have gone up recently. Sgt. Carrie Carver of the Lane County Sheriff’s Office, which issues CHLs for Lane residents, says that applications for new concealed carry permits have gone up, too. Back in 2006 there were 811 CHL applicants for the year. In 2009 there were 2,032. That number has gone down a little, but Carver says for 2012 the average is about 179 applicants a month — that’s new permits, not renewals. Exactly what is driving this upsurge in concealed carry permits, Carver is not sure.
Guns sold by dealers in Oregon are fairly regulated; private sales are less so. If you buy a gun in Oregon from a dealer or at a gun show you have to provide ID and a fingerprint, and a quick background check goes through the Oregon State Police. There is no waiting period and while the Firearms Instant Check System keeps a record for five years of those attempting to buy guns, that database is not open to public inspection. Also not open is the database of concealed handgun license holders, nor does Oregon keep a record of who owns most guns.
Federally, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) website is peppered with useful information on how to buy and sell guns correctly, including a series of informational cartoon videos and a FAQ with answers for those who say things like: “I want to import firearms, ammunition and implements of war.”
Federal gun laws forbid kids under 18 from buying handguns or owning them, but with exceptions, according to the ATF. Long guns (rifles and shotguns), however, are fine for kids to buy under federal law if not purchased from a federal firearms licensee, and youth 18 to 21 can buy handguns, just not from a federal licensee. The lesson here for some might just be: Don’t buy your gun from a federal licensee — though they are the folks who can legally sell guns across state lines.
If you are a private seller, selling to another Oregonian, there’s no background check needed or record of sale required, though you are not supposed to knowingly sell to felons or others who can’t legally own guns. Giving guns as gifts is also fine, Leach said, reminding us, “Beware the man who only has one gun. He probably knows how to use it.”
Bob once bought a Browning .20 gauge semi-auto shotgun at a garage sale in south Eugene. This seemed like a bad idea to me, but Bob was super-pleased to add it to his small arsenal. I think he’s still pissed, though, that I wouldn’t sell him the SKS or the .22 when we broke up.