SALEM — Oregonians from across the political spectrum packed into the state Capitol Monday to testify on bills to limit some Oregonians’ access to guns, including people who show signs they’re suicidal or who don’t demonstrate they have the skills to shoot a gun.
Some gun owners worried that the bills would take away the constitutionally protected right to bear arms, while proponents of the bills insisted the proposals were necessary to prevent gun violence.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard three bills Monday.
In her testimony on two of the bills, Gov. Kate Brown said they could help prevent public shootings like the one at Umpqua Community College in 2015, where 10 died, as well as domestic violence incidents like the recent Gresham shooting in which a father shot and killed his two daughters before turning the gun on himself.
“I cannot imagine the heartache the family is going through,” Brown said, choking up. “And I extend my sincere condolences. This is absolutely unacceptable. In Oregon, we can do better. Violence answers nothing, offers nothing, solves nothing.”
Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, is the co-sponsor along with Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, of a bill that would give family members some power to keep a loved one from buying a gun to hurt someone.
Senate Bill 868 would enable immediate family members to obtain a court order to prevent a person showing signs of wanting to commit suicide or hurt others from obtaining a gun for a year. It would require the person to hand over any guns in their possession.
Boquist said he hopes his bill will prevent suicides, especially among veterans. His stepson, a Navy veteran, killed himself last year.
Boquist tried to get ahead of arguments by the bill’s opponents by addressing their biggest concern: that it violates the Second Amendment. It doesn’t, he assured the committee, because various courts have heard cases on the constitutionality of similar laws and ruled in their favor.
“It’s easy to wave your book around,” he said, brandishing a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution. “When the Supreme Court and other people say it’s constitutional, that’s the law of the land.”
A second bill, Senate Bill 797, would close the so-called Charleston loophole, which enables a gun sale to go through if a background check is not completed within three days. The bill would require that the background check be completed before the sale, no matter how long it takes.
Keely Hopkins, a lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, said SB 797 amounts to giving up on the state’s ability to process background checks in the three days currently allotted.
“Firearm ownership and self-defense is an important right, and Oregonians rely on the state to conduct and complete background checks in a timely manner,” she said. “An indefinite delay in a background check makes it impossible for a person to legally purchase a firearm.”
The bill would also prohibit people convicted of stalking from obtaining a firearm, in addition to those subject to a restraining order or convicted of certain misdemeanors.
Currently the restraining order or misdemeanor must apply to someone the person lives with, is married to or shares a child with for the gun prohibition to apply. The bill would expand that circle to include anyone with whom the person has or had a sexual relationship.
Who sponsored that bill was not made public.
A third bill, with its possible amendments, is a mishmash of several proposals. Among other things, Senate Bill 764 would require applicants for concealed handgun permits to demonstrate the ability to fire the gun, rather than just complete a test online. That bill didn’t list its sponsors, either.
Boquist said he and Burdick worked with people on both sides of the gun control debate while crafting their bill.
“What we’re trying to do is provide the best course of action that will give families a chance to help themselves and prevent their veterans and other family members from killing themselves, prevent suicide by cop, and worse, killing family members in desperation,” he said.
Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill said it’s impossible to know whether SB 868 would have saved the lives of those killed in Gresham last week. But, he said, if the proposed law saves even one life, it will be worth it.
“I think that it’s only going to take one,” he said. “I don’t know which one it will be that we save their lives – whether it be a homicidal or suicidal ideation, but it’s the time and place for Oregon” to pass this bill.
Jenna Passalacqua Yuille spoke in support of Boquist’s bill on behalf of Americans for Responsible Solutions, a group founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.
Passalacqua Yuille lost both parents to gun violence: Her mother was shot and killed at the Clackamas Town Center in 2012 when a gunman opened fire on shoppers. A few years later, her father bought a gun and used it to kill himself.
“If I had known that a tool like extreme risk protection order was available, I would have used it, and my dad probably wouldn’t have been able to buy a gun that day,” she said. “Passing this bill would give families and loved ones an opportunity to reduce the risk of suicide for someone in crisis.”
Hopkins, the National Rifle Association lobbyist, questioned the due process in the suicide prevention bill.
“This bill allows for a protective order to remove your Second Amendment rights,” she said, “not because of a criminal conviction, but based on third-party allegations using an evidentiary standard that falls far below what’s normally required for the removing of fundamental rights.”
It was unclear Monday if those bills will be voted on in the Senate Judiciary Committee or another committee.
Bozeb Beckwith, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon’s Gun Owners Caucus, said he opposes the bills as a private citizen.
“When I first became a member of the DPO’s Gun Owners Caucus, I bought one of our bumper stickers,” he said. “The bumper sticker has a simple line on it. It says, ‘Democrats don’t want your guns – we’ve got our own.’ I love that line. It’s great, it’s simple, it’s to the point. I have since peeled that bumper sticker off my car.”
He said he took it off after reading SB 868, the suicide prevention bill. The bill made his bumper sticker false, he said. Though Beckwith admitted that his speech might jeopardize his standing with his party, he said he’s not a “crazy gun guy.”
“I’m just a guy,” he said. “I’m a guy who took a shift off work to come down to Salem to try and break through this space between us in two minutes. To help members of this committee see this bill for what it is – a bill that takes our guns away.”
— Anna Marum