LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. (AP) — A pastor in an affluent suburb of Portland may have run afoul of Oregon law when he transferred an AR-15 assault rifle that he won in a softball league raffle to a gun-owning friend for safekeeping without performing a background check.
The Oregon State Police will open an investigation into whether the Rev. Jeremy Lucas violated any law, spokesman Capt. Bill Fugate told The Associated Press on Tuesday, although the decision on charges would fall to the district attorney.
Lucas, of Christ Church Episcopal Parish in Lake Oswego, a suburban town about 10 miles south of Portland, drew national attention recently when he used $3,000 in discretionary church funds to buy as many of the raffle tickets as he could for a softball league fundraiser to send high school students to a regional tournament in California.
Lucas, 41, wanted to win so he could destroy the gun. He told the AP on Tuesday that he has received overwhelming support from parishioners.
"The money that was used to buy the raffle tickets has been more than replaced," he said. "We've gotten support from all over the country, with people sending checks and money. It's struck a chord."
Last year, state lawmakers passed a new law that made transferring a gun without a background check illegal, even if the arrangement is between two private parties and no money changes hands. If Lucas were to be convicted of a misdemeanor charge of unlawful transfer of a weapon, he could face a maximum fine of $6,250 and up to a year in jail.
Lucas told the AP he has not heard from authorities and is not worried about the investigation. "If they get in touch with me, I'll be happy to talk to them and tell them everything they want to know," he said.
Lucas first read about the raffle of the AR-15 in Portland's alternative weekly newspaper, Willamette Week. He decided to try to win the gun to get it out of circulation, while at the same time sending the players from the Big League Girls' All Star Softball Team to the tournament. They were selling $20 tickets to raise $6,000 for the trip.
When he won, Lucas passed a background check and took possession of the weapon.
But when he told The Washington Post in an interview last week that he had given the rifle to someone else for safekeeping, the Oregon Firearms Federation took note. The group strongly opposed last year's Senate Bill 941 because its members feared the law would wind up criminalizing gun owners, said Kevin Starrett, the group's executive director.
Starrett last week wrote a letter pointing out Lucas's potential law violation and mailed it to the Oregon State Police, the Lake Oswego Police Department and 30 state lawmakers, he told the AP on Tuesday. He called Lucas "vocally anti-gun" and accused him of trying to make a political statement with his parishioners' money.
"We thought it should be looked into," he said. "And now he can't get the gun back without violating (the law) again."
It's unclear when the Oregon State Police will complete its investigation. Fugate, the spokesman, had no other details.