We recently returned to the Rogue Valley after nearly 20 years and, most recently, lived in Arizona where it is legal to carry an unconcealed weapon — a handgun, for example — without a permit; the only exception was, I believe, in bars. I am a cyclist and, in Arizona near the Mexico border where we lived, it was not uncommon for solitary road or off-road bike riders to carry a handgun for protection. What is legal regarding such practices in Oregon?

We recently returned to the Rogue Valley after nearly 20 years and, most recently, lived in Arizona where it is legal to carry an unconcealed weapon — a handgun, for example — without a permit; the only exception was, I believe, in bars. I am a cyclist and, in Arizona near the Mexico border where we lived, it was not uncommon for solitary road or off-road bike riders to carry a handgun for protection. What is legal regarding such practices in Oregon?

— H. Fuhrman

Mr. Fuhrman, here is a response authored by Sgt. Bob Grantham in our civil services department, who's much more knowledgeable in this area than I am (thanks, Bob):

Unfortunately there is not a single, simple answer to your question, as there are a number of different laws and exceptions that apply to the possession of weapons. In general, Oregon is an "open carry" state.

Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) 166.250, defines "Unlawful possession of firearms," but specifically does not prohibit, "Firearms carried openly in belt holsters ..." Simply stated, you're free to open carry within the state of Oregon, with some exceptions.

Having said that, there are other laws and exceptions that apply: ORS 166.173, "A city or county may adopt ordinances to regulate, restrict or prohibit the possession of loaded firearms in public places ..." ORS 66.370 prohibits any person possessing a firearm in a public building, schools, court houses, etc. (however this does not apply to concealed handgun license holders), various state and federal laws bar certain classes of individuals (i.e. felons, drug addicts, etc.) from possessing weapons. Federal laws further restrict possession and carrying of weapons in such places as federal facilities, federal courthouses, post offices, airport property, protected national wilderness areas, military reservations, American Indian reservations, American Indian gaming casinos, endangered species areas, etc. Additionally, owners of private property, (an individual, a bank, a department store) may deny access (through trespass laws) to persons carrying firearms.

While "open carry" in unrestricted areas is legal, it will tend to attract the attention of others. The best suggestion is to consider obtaining a concealed handgun license. Information regarding concealed weapon licenses is available at www.jacksoncounty.org/sheriff online. And please remember that if you are going to carry, it is ultimately your responsibility to know the law and any restrictions that may apply.

Dace Cochran, a patrol sergeant with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, writes a weekly Q&A column on police issues for the Mail Tribune. Have a question for him? Write to Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501, or e-mail cochradc@jacksoncounty.org.