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Guns are in both the national and local spotlight due to several different tragedies, new restrictions and other measures taken to either restrict or allow gun ownership.

But what is open carry? What happens when a store doesn’t allow it? And how do Oregon laws affect St. Helens residents?

Those are questions answered in the guide below. The Chronicle has included a glossary of common gun terms, as well as various federal, state and municipal laws concerning guns.

Common gun terms

Assault rifle: The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines an “assault rifle” to be “any of various intermediate-range, magazine-fed military rifles that can be set for automatic or semiautomatic fire.”

Assault weapon: This is a term that varies depending on who is using it and is more of a political term than a technical one. Currently, the state of Oregon has no laws either defining or regulating assault weapons. However, there is a ballot initiative for the 2020 election on banning assault weapons, which defines “assault weapons” as “a semiautomatic rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine.”

AR-15: An abbreviation for “ArmaLite Rifle-15,” a type of semiautomatic rifle. It does not stand for “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle” (

Automatic firearm: A firearm that fires bullets “continuously and in rapid succession while the trigger is depressed until the bullet clip or magazine is empty,” (Carter, Gregg Lee (2012). Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law. ABC-CLIO. p. 53.)

Firearm: “a weapon from which a shot is discharged by gunpowder—usually used of small arms” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Handgun: a gun designed for use by one hand, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Long gun: a gun that is fired while braced against the shoulder, according to

Magazine: “A spring-loaded container for cartridges that may be an integral part of the gun`s mechanism or may be detachable,” according to the National Rifle Association firearms glossary.

Revolver: “A gun, usually a handgun, with a multi-chambered cylinder that rotates to successively align each chamber with a single barrel and firing pin” according to the NRA firearms glossary.

Rifle: “A shoulder gun with rifled bore,” according to the NRA firearms glossary.

Semi-automatic: “A firearm designed to fire a single cartridge, eject the empty case and reload the chamber each time the trigger is pulled,” according to the NRA firearms glossary.

Gun laws

Open carry: “The act or practice of carrying a firearm openly in public” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The practice is legal in Oregon without a license, according to the Oregon State Constitution, Article I, Section 27. However, a preemption states that a city or county may restrict the presence of loaded firearms in public places. Currently, only the cities of Portland, Beaverton, Tigard, Oregon City, Salem and Independence have such restrictions.

Chain stores including local places like Safeway, Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, Walmart, and Fred Meyer announced in September that they will not allow open carry of weapons, even in states that allow open carry. Walmart also announced on Sept. 3 that it would discontinue the sale of ammunition used in weapons that use high-capacity magazines.

The Chronicle reached out to Walmart to further explain the store’s policy.

“Our language is that we’re respectfully requesting customers to not openly carry weapons in stores,” Ragan Dickens, spokesperson for Walmart said. “If they’re open carrying and they’re making customers feel uncomfortable, we’re asking store managers to have the discretion to have that discussion if necessary with them.”

Other stores to which The Chronicle reached out were not immediately available by press time.

Concealed carry: “the practice of carrying a weapon in a concealed manner” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 166.291 prohibits carrying of concealed firearms. However, ORS 166.260 exempts carriers of a valid Concealed Handgun License from the law.

Can I buy a gun, and what type of gun can I use? Oregon law dictates that anyone who purchases a gun must be at least 18 years of age to buy a long gun, and 21 years of age to buy a hand gun. Minors are allowed to possess firearms with certain exceptions, such as if the gun was transferred to the minor by their parent, or are temporarily possessing it for hunting, target practice, or “any other lawful purpose.” (ORS 166.250)

If you buy a gun, you are not very likely to purchase an automatic weapon. The National Firearms Act of 1934 strictly regulated the use of automatic weapons (73rd Congress, Sess. 2, ch. 757, 48 Stat. 1236). Nowadays, if you purchase one, you must go through an application process administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), pay a federal tax payment of $200, and go through a thorough criminal background check. Additionally, the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA) of 1986 restricted use of automatic weapons further by mandating that only automatic weapons that had been registered between 1934 and 1986 can be used (S. 49, 99th).

Is Oregon going to ban weapons any time soon?

Currently, there is a ballot initiative on the horizon for the 2020 ballot entitled “The Common Sense Gun Regulation Act.” The initiative aims to ban assault weapons, which are defined as “any semiautomatic rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine” along with a few other qualifications. The initiative is still pending final review, but if placed on the ballot and passed, “The Common Sense Gun Regulation Act” may not be the final word.

Chris Brumbles, a local resident, has made headlines with Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinances meant to grant Columbia County residents the right to carry weapons even if state or federal laws restrict weapons ownership. Currently, a few Sanctuary Ordinances are in the works, like the Second Amendment Protection Ordinance (SAPO) passed last year, and the Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance (SASO) awaiting voter approval.

According to language outlined in the SAPO, law enforcement may not “utilize any assets, county funds, or funds allocated by any entity to the county, in whole or in part, to engage in any activity that aids in the enforcement or investigation relating to personal firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition.” This means the county cannot expend resources to enforce laws seen as violating the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Gun laws and the police

The Chronicle also spoke with Jose Castilleja, St. Helens Police Department (SHPD) sergeant, to talk about gun laws. One thing Castilleja stressed was constant communication with SHPD officers if someone is carrying a gun on their person.

“A lot of people use [guns] as a tool, there are a lot of ranchers and farmers in the area,” Castilleja said. “The biggest key is just communication.”

Castilleja said while Oregon is an open carry state, there are a few places where people cannot have guns, such as in a government building like the DMV or the post office.

While there are no Oregon laws requiring persons to inform officers that they are carrying a weapon, Castilleja said communication is still a good practice.

“If you come in contact with law enforcement, always let the officer know there’s a weapon on you or nearby,” Castilleja said. “Just be open with it.”

Castilleja said he has been in St. Helens since 2007, and has seen residents with guns on their hips while out and about in the community. He said he has never had a problem with any of those residents.


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