PORTLAND, Ore. — Gary Quackenbush, 40 years a gun owner, was stuck in a stiff, unforgiving theater seat. The movie he paid to watch was running three hours. It was long, boring and left him miserable.
Quackenbush says he spent much of the “The Hobbit” wriggling, trying to get comfortable. At some point, his pistol fell out of his holster.
The semiautomatic was loaded. According to police, its safety was off, and there was a round in the chamber.
Quackenbush says he didn’t notice the empty holster until he was nearly home Tuesday. He tried calling the Tillamook movie theater, but no one answered. And when he arrived Wednesday to retrieve his weapon, he found some shocked middle school kids, a gaggle of press and a police officer.
A seventh-grader had found the loaded weapon under a theater seat and notified adults.
Quackenbush acknowledges that, if there was a bad year to leave a gun in a movie theater, it was 2012. Shootings at a Colorado movie theater, an Oregon mall and, most recently, a Connecticut elementary school, have many people more concerned than ever about loaded weapons in public places.
Quackenbush said he always keeps the gun loaded with a round in the chamber because he never knows when he may have to use it.
“In a time of crisis like somebody barging into a mall or a theater, you don’t have time to do a two-handed cocking of the weapon,” he said in a phone interview. “It is my mindset everywhere I go.”
Quackenbush said he lives in a rural area where bears and cougars abound. He said he’s had to fire his weapon to scare off animals but hasn’t had to fire it at a person.
Mass shootings in recent months, including the one that killed 12 people at the Aurora, Colo., movie theater, could have been averted — or the casualties lessened — if someone besides the gunman had a loaded weapon, Quackenbush said.
“If somebody had been prepared, they could have stopped those perpetrators long before they were able to commit those horrific acts,” he said.
Tillamook County Sheriff Andy Long said Quackenbush’s case was handled by city police and information was forwarded to the county district attorney, who is considering whether to press charges.
A sheriff’s deputy drove to Quackenbush’s home Thursday and took his concealed weapons permit. Quackenbush can reapply for a concealed weapons permit as long as no criminal charges are pending, Long said.
“He shouldn’t apply for it soon,” Long said.
Quackenbush said that after trying to call the theater Tuesday, he spent a sleepless night pacing before driving to the theater early in the morning.
“I’m totally appalled at the incident and embarrassed, and regret that I gave people distress,” Quackenbush said.
Of the movie “The Hobbit,” his review in a letter to media organizations explaining the incident was brief: “Overly long,” he said, “and fairly boring.”