What Is the Deal With the Northeast Portland Apartment Signs Saying “Steal Gas, Get Shot”?

The signs say “Tenants Are Armed,” but did not come with any new, special requirements for the tenants.

Devonshire Apartments. (Aaron Mesh)

At Northeast 63rd and Glisan, there is an apartment building with signs all over it saying things like “Steal Gas, Get Shot,” “Tenants Are Armed,” etc. What is the deal with those signs? Do tenants approve? Do you have to be willing to shoot a trespasser to rent an apartment there? —Dream of the 9mm’s Is Alive in Portland

One potential disadvantage of being a liberal squish like myself is that bad guys know you’re not armed. It doesn’t take a seasoned criminal to look at me and be pretty sure I’m not going to step out of my Prius, pull a Glock out of my OPB tote bag and blow somebody away. When it comes to projecting the dangerous unpredictability that makes miscreants think twice, I’m good at Scrabble.

Of course, the problem with dangerous unpredictability is that it’s unpredictable and dangerous. (This is why the practice of keeping an attack Republican for home defense never really caught on.) Researchers consistently find that having a gun in the home roughly doubles the occupants’ chances of dying by gun violence. Even if that “Protected by Smith and Wesson” sign does deter thieves, it’s not worth the risk.

Of course, there will always be those who disagree, pretty clearly including the property managers at the Devonshire Apartments, who residents say posted the no-nonsense signs this past spring. The signs did not come with any new, special requirements for the tenants. In fact, while it wasn’t exactly a scientific survey, two out of two residents contacted didn’t even own a gun.

Theoretically, these non-gun-owning tenants should have the best of both worlds, reaping all the security benefits of a firearms-based intimidation regime without any of the tedious intrafamily homicide that normally comes with it. However, it’s far from clear that advertising the fact that you’re armed actually deters crime in the first place. A recent article by GunsAmerica Digest (not exactly Mother Jones) acknowledges that pro-gun signage often merely serves to tip off gun thieves. And several studies have found no net crime-deterring effect from high rates of gun ownership.

Then again, anecdotal evidence from ex-criminals (as well as most people’s intuition) suggests that, all else being equal, crooks would prefer to avoid trigger-happy homeowners. Especially ones pissed off enough to make that many signs.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.

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