Monday, November 13, 2006

The Legalities of Self-Defense in Oregon

Oregon has a very low standard for what counts as "deadly force". The law can be summarized with two of its definitions:
"Deadly physical force" means physical force that under the circumstances in which it is used is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury.

"Serious physical injury" means physical injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.
This means pretty much any attack with an object counts as "deadly force". The courts do not care if the object is a gun or a baseball bat or a flashlight with teeth. There is even established court precedent for a significant difference in size or weight between two unarmed people to count as "deadly force".

The only way to physically defend yourself without using "deadly force" is with a bright light or chemical spray. These do not cause what is legally classified as serious physical injury.

The above link to Oregon law needs to be read more carefully for sections 161.210 through 161.219, but the summary of appropriate self-defense are these phrases:
...a person is justified in using physical force upon another person for self-defense or to defend a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force...
As in any state, self-defense is okay, but while defending yourself you should not be the one who escalates a situation to include deadly force.

So if someone is yelling insults and pushing you around a little, but has not given any indication that serious physical injury is imminent, it is illegal at that point to try to get them to go away by drawing a gun or smacking them with some sort of club.

Because "home robbery assault" (someone breaking into your home when you are there) and rape so often involve the criminal using deadly force, Oregon courts have set a standard slightly different from how the law actually reads in 161.225: it is always legal to "reasonably believe" in these two crimes will include the criminal using deadly force, and so a defender may always use deadly force. (This is part of the word "assault" in the technical name of what might otherwise be called something like "home invasion burglary".)

Thus Eugene (except in college student housing neighborhoods) has an extremely low incidence of people breaking into homes when people are at home: doing so is asking to get shot, and the courts are not going to be sympathetic if the criminal's family tries to sue.

And thus very few people carry something to hit an aggressor with. Better to carry a chemical spray and/or bright light to help you flee an attack. If you want a weapon as well (and are over 21), you might as well get a concealed handgun permit and have a handgun.

Furthermore, if you are defending yourself outside of your home (and outside an attempted rape), the courts will not be sympathetic if it appears you were eager for the opportunity to use deadly force.

Thus it is legally a bad idea to have a flashlight with teeth or a special self-defense umbrella. These may seem cool to those of us with a Y chromosome. But legally they are asking for trouble after a situation that required you to use them.

Similarly, many people who carry a concealed handgun use a gun without any modifications from factory standards. To help with comfort and safety it is normally recommended to at least consider customizing the grips and tension of the trigger spring of any gun you own. Modifying the sights is also common. For home defense, adding a bright light connected to the trigger or grips is vital. But for a concealed handgun any kind of modification might be seen by a jury as evidence that you were eager to use the gun, leading to trouble after a self-defense situation.

So as nifty as I find the unbreakable umbrellas, I don't think I'll be getting one.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention handloading. Centerfire bullets are expensive. People who shoot for recreation often collect their used cartridge casings and reload them. This is roughly half as expensive as buying new bullets, after you overcome the initial investment of the required tools. But many courts, including in Oregon, have a precedent of seeing handloaded cartridges as a sign of someone eager modify typical bullet behavior (with handloading you can use a different amount of powder or a different weight bullet, although this may lower reliability), and thus eager to use a gun. So many people who carry a concealed handgun only put new, store-bought bullets in that gun when they carry it.