I was 11 when my dad died, but this isn't about him or what happened to him.
My dad introduced me at a young age to fishing, hunting and the love of the great outdoors. It was his lasting and greatest legacy that carries on into my adulthood.
I was probably 8 or 9 years old the first time he put the single shot 20-gauge shotgun into my hands and matter-of-factly told me to shoot the clay target that he would fling with a hand-held trap thrower.
I don't remember exactly how it all went down, but I'm guessing Mom was stationed right behind me, ready to make sure I shot at the flying target and not in my Dad's direction. My eyes were probably shut and I was most definitely nervous. Somehow in that awkward moment it all lined up, and I watched the clay disc explode into a puff. Very cool. Very fun. From that moment I was hooked.
I was taught the rules of responsible gun ownership and use — never cross a fence while holding a firearm; always assume a firearm is loaded; NEVER point a firearm at another person; guns aren't toys. The list goes on.
And then dad died, which also put immediate brakes on my burgeoning outdoors ambitions. As an 11-year-old boy growing up in Northeast Portland, there weren't many hunting opportunities.
And here is where things went temporarily in the wrong direction. As a dumb 11-year-old, I got my hands on several of Dad's firearms — two rifles and a shotgun. All of this goes to show that as a parent you can do your best to teach a child correct behavior, but you can't expect adult behavior of a punk kid.
There were times when I was alone with friends and I'd show them the guns. We'd take turns aiming the firearms at fictional deer and waterfowl. All of this was unsupervised and without Mom's permission.
Looking back, I am both embarrassed and relieved that something horrible never happened.
That's why I purchased a gun safe when I became a parent, preventing my kids from accessing the firearms without my permission. It also helps ensure that my guns are far less likely to be stolen and later used for nefarious purposes.
This explains why I'm an advocate for responsible gun storage.
The advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety reports that gunshot deaths by children handling a gun jumped 31% during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to a year earlier. There were 98 deaths that resulted from unintentional shootings by children from March through December 2019 compared to 128 over that same period in 2020, the group reported.
It's all too easy to think it will never happen in your home, until it does. The frustrating part is that that these tragedies are so easily prevented.
That's why I applaud the Oregon Legislature's passage and the governor's signature on Senate Bill 554, a law requiring gun owners to provide locks and safe storage of firearms to deter theft and unauthorized access by minors or others.
To those who it say it imposes a financial burden on law-abiding citizens, when you set the expense against the cost of firearms and ammunition it's not as burdensome as you might think.
This is not a Second Amendment issue. These precautions don't prevent people from owning and using firearms. They are simply the best and easiest ways to keep guns out of the wrong hands.
With this law in place, Oregonians won't witness a surge of police going door-to-door demanding proof of safe storage. For the most part, gun owners will operate under the honor system in terms of complying with this law.
I hope most people will resist the temptation to make this a partisan political issue, but instead about the responsibilities of safe gun ownership.
Tomorrow morning I leave for a deer hunting trip to Central Oregon, taking with me my Dad's rifle, which has accompanied me on every hunting trip since 1980. I couldn't imagine ever losing this rifle, the only remaining possession I have that was his before it became mine. Yet another good reason for safe gun storage.
Steve Brown is editor/publisher of The Outlook, Sandy Post and Estacada News.
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