COVID-19 stalls gun licenses; Oregon sheriffs urge ‘discretion’

Special Reports

There are close to 280,000 active concealed handgun licenses in the state

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — The coronavirus pandemic appears to have boosted gun sales, but it is also preventing many concealed handgun carriers from renewing their licenses. That could put them in a sticky situation legally.

“When an individual comes in to get their concealed handgun license or renew, oftentimes that’s a face-to-face transaction. A lot of the sheriff’s offices have had to stop that because of the spread of the virus,” Jason Myers, executive director of the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association (OSSA) told KOIN 6 News. The OSSA is a non-profit organization representing Oregon’s 36 sheriffs.

Many counties have the ability to renew concealed handgun licenses (CHL) online or by mail, but Myers said that is not an option for everyone. That’s why he said he sent a letter to Oregon police agencies and the Oregon District Attorneys Association, asking them to “use their discretion” if they find someone whose CHL has expired between March and June of 2020.

That could very well be thousands of Oregonians. In Multnomah County alone, 592 permits are set to expire this month, according to a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

“We’re in the midst of an unprecedented situation and we want to make sure we’re focusing our resources on the greatest public safety needs,” Myers said. That may mean showing leniency toward people who haven’t been able to renew their driver’s license, concealed handgun license, or other documents “by no fault of their own,” he said.

Some sheriff’s offices, including Columbia and Clackamas, are on board with the OSSA’s request and have said they will not take enforcement action if someone’s CHL expires due to the closures.

Others, like the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), are taking a harder line. MCSO is still processing renewal requests, according to a spokesman. If a CHL holder is unable to renew for some reason, they should not carry a concealed firearm.

Carrying a concealed weapon without a license in Oregon is a Class A Misdemeanor with the possibility of a $6,250 fine and up to a year in jail.

Prospective concealed carry applicants are likely out of luck until Governor Kate Brown’s stay at home order is lifted. Fingerprints and identification photos have to be taken in person, so Myers said new applicants will have to wait until social distancing restrictions are lifted to receive their licenses.

“There’s gonna be a backlog I’m sure of new applications and it’s going to take time for the sheriff’s office to process, but just rest assured they will work through those as efficiently and quickly as possible,” Myers said.

Gun sales shoot up

Photos of long lines at gun stores across the country have made international news. The FBI processed a record 3.7 million background checks during the month of March.

Oregon is no exception. In March, 51,067 firearms transactions were approved, according to state data. That’s a 66% increase from March 2019, when 30,793 gun sales and transfers were approved.

Oregon data from the Firearms Instant Check System (KOIN)

The increase is concerning to gun control advocates. Ceasefire Oregon put out a press release Monday urging “all gun owners to understand the proven consequences of guns in the home and the community and to take all necessary precautions to prevent a family tragedy.” The organization is particularly concerned with an increase in domestic violence and suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ceasefire says precautions include storing firearms securely and separate from ammunition, familiarization with suicide prevention/domestic violence resources, and an understanding of Oregon’s red flag laws.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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