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Firearm Safety

Public Health's Role

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA), through its Injury and Violence Prevention section in the Public Health Division, works to prevent firearm-related deaths and injuries, including suicide. The Public Health Division does this through data collection and tracking, and by collaborating with community, tribal, local, state, and federal partners.

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Basic Firearm Safety Tips

  • Treat all guns as if they are loaded.
    If you don’t know how to check if a gun is loaded, leave it alone and get help from someone who knows how to check.
  • Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
    A "safe direction" means if the gun accidentally fires, it will not cause injury or damage. Only point a gun at an object you plan to shoot.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
    If you are moving around with your finger on the trigger and trip or fall, you could pull the trigger by accident. Sudden loud noises or movements could also startle you and cause you to pull the trigger by accident.
  • Know your target, its surroundings and beyond.
    Check that the areas in front of and behind your target are safe before you shoot. If the bullet misses or completely passes through the target, it could hit a person or object. Identify the target and make sure it is what you plan to shoot. If you are in doubt, don’t shoot!
  • Know how to properly operate your gun.
    Never assume that what applies to one type of gun is exactly the same for a different make or model. If you have questions about your gun, ask your firearms dealer or contact the manufacturer directly.
  • Store your gun safely and securely to prevent unauthorized use.
    Use a firearm safety device on the gun, like a trigger lock or cable lock, so it can't be fired. Store it unloaded in a lock box or a gun safe. Store your gun in a different location than the ammunition.

Also, Keep in Mind...

  • Never handle a gun when you are feeling angry or depressed.
    Your judgment may be impaired.
  • Guns, alcohol and drugs don't mix.
    Alcohol and any other substance that can impair your normal mental or physical functions should not be used before or while handling guns. Don’t handle or use your gun when you are taking medications that make you sleepy or that include a warning to not operate machinery while taking this drug.
  • Never shoot a gun in celebration.
    A bullet fired into the air will return to the ground with enough speed to cause injury or death.
  • Do not shoot at water, or at flat or hard surfaces.
    The bullet can ricochet and hit someone or something other than the target.
  • Hand your gun to someone only after you make sure it is unloaded and the cylinder or action is open.
    Only take a gun from someone after you make sure it is unloaded and the cylinder or action is open.
  • Always wear ear and eye protection when shooting a gun. The loud noise from a fired gun can cause hearing damage. Debris and hot gas can be released when a gun is fired and injure your eyes.

*Adapted from the State of California Department of Justice​​​

Firearm Deaths in Oregon

In Oregon in 2017, 529 people died from a firearm (12.2 per 100,000 persons).

These deaths include:

  • 439 from suicide (83%)
  • 74 from homicide (14%)
  • 3% other (unintentional, undetermined, legal intervention)

Fact Sheets

Firearm Deaths, Oregon and U.S.

Firearm Deaths, by Oregon County

CD Summary: A new approach to preventing firearm deaths, 2017


Firearms and Suicide

Many people in the U.S. believe that most firearm deaths are homicides, however the data show otherwise.

  • Nationwide, 60% of all firearm deaths are the result of suicide.
  • In Oregon, this number is even higher at over 80%, with a disproportionately higher rate in rural communities compared to urban. 
  • 77% of all firearms suicides are done by handgun. 
  • Among male military veterans, 3 out of 4 suicides involve a firearm.
The high percent of firearms deaths that are suicides is also seen in other Western states, including Alaska, Colorado, Utah, and Washington, and our neighbors in Canada.

Risk Factors for Firearm Suicide

Oregon tracks violent deaths through the Oregon Violent Death Reporting System (OR-VDRS). The data include deaths by age, sex, and county, and trends over time.

Common risk factors for firearms suicide identified in OR-VDRS include:

  • Mental illness and substance abuse
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Interpersonal relationship problems or poor family relationships
  • Recent criminal legal problems or school problems
  • Exposure to a friend or family member's suicidal behavior​​
  • Background checks: Following the 2015 Senate Bill 941, Oregon passed the Oregon Firearms Safety Act requiring private or unlicensed firearm sellers to conduct criminal and mental health checks for nearly all private or unlicensed gun sales and transfers, including at a gun show.
  • Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO): Senate Bill 719 (2017) allows a judge to take guns away from people who may harm themselves or others.
    • This action can only be taken if there is documented evidence that a person is threatening harm to self or others. The law ensures all parties receive due process.
  • Convicted domestic violence offenders and people subject to domestic abuse restraining orders are barred from possessing guns and ammunition per Senate Bill 525 (2015)
  • People with stalking and domestic violence convictions are banned from owning firearms per the 2018 Gun Violence Prevention Bill, House Bill 4145 (2018).
  • License to carry a concealed handgun: County sheriffs must issue a concealed handgun license (CHL) to any requester who meets requirements in ORS 166.291, unless “the sheriff has reasonable grounds to believe that the applicant has been or is reasonably likely to be a danger to self or others, or to the community at large.” (ORS 166.293).
    • One in 16 Oregon adults has a concealed handgun license.
    • A CHL allows carrying a loaded and hidden gun into public schools and the Oregon State Capitol Building.
    • Oregon does not allow people with concealed handgun licenses from other states to carry concealed in Oregon, but gun owners from states bordering Oregon may request a CHL from border county sheriffs.
  • Minimum age to purchase or possess a gun: Oregon law prohibits anyone under age 18 from possessing a gun unless possession would otherwise be lawful and (1) the gun is not a handgun and was transferred with the minor’s parent’s consent, or (2) the minor possesses the gun temporarily for a lawful purpose (ORS 166.250).
  • Firearms transaction data retention: The Governor’s Executive Order No 16-12 (2016) allows the Oregon State Police to retain data for 5 years. It also directs OHA to study the effects of gun violence and suicide in Oregon and work with the Governor’s office to determine if executive action or statutory amendment is necessary to obtain data.
  • Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) do not:
    • Include safety standards for firearms;
    • Limit the sale or possession of semiautomatic assault rifles;
    • Limit the number of rounds in a magazine except for hunting;
    • Require licensing or safety training before buying or possessing a firearm;
    • Include child access prevention regulations (with the exception of the City of Portland in PCC section 14A.60.050 and Multnomah County in Section 15.051. ​
  • ​Health System Interventions to Prevent Firearm Injuries and Death - The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a workshop to examine the roles that health systems can play in addressing the epidemic of firearm violence in the United States. This publication summarizes the presentations and discussions from the workshop.

Crisis Lines

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255

Veteran Crisis Line
1-800-273-8255, Press 1

Oregon County Crisis Hotlines

More Crisis Services

 Featured Data

Firearm fatality rates vary by county, age group and intent.

Map: Firearm death rates by county per 100,000 population, all intents: Low is 0 (white), high is 3 (dark blue).

2017 Firearm death rates by county 
[View details]

Graph: Firearm fatality rates by age group and intent. Homicide highest for 18 to 24 year olds. Suicide highest over 65.

2013-2017 Firearm fatality rates by age group and intent 
[View details]

Source: Oregon Violent Death Reporting System.

The Oregon Violent Death Reporting System includes more firearm data and an interactive data dashboard.

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