Our View: Lawmakers did right in passing bill on guns, suicides
Oregon has joined California and Washington in creating a process by which a judge can order the removal of a firearm from the possession of someone deemed to be a threat to themselves — suicidal — or to others.
Two local lawmakers led the way on this, and you couldn't find two people seemingly farther apart politically than Sens. Ginny Burdick and Brian Boquist. Yet they came together on Senate Bill 719, the Extreme Risk Protection Act, which Gov. Kate Brown has signed into law.
Burdick is a Portlander and a liberal Democrat. Her district includes Tigard and she leads the Senate Democratic Caucus. She also is the Legislature's leading advocate for laws to reduce the illegal use of firearms.
Boquist is a career military man and a conservative Republican out of Dallas. His district stretches into the middle of Washington County.
But they came together — not out of some mutual belief in gun restrictions or gun rights — but in the belief that Oregon isn't doing enough to address the risks of suicide. That was the north star guiding these two disparate lawmakers.
The stats are on their side.
According to the state Public Health Division, from 2010 to 2014, an estimated 2,280 Oregonians died from firearm injuries.
Newspapers, radio and television newscasts focus almost entirely on the homicides (and that's doubly so when authorities think the deaths can be linked to terrorism or gang activity). Yet that paints an imbalanced picture of the deaths in Oregon.
Of those 2,280 deaths, 13 percent were homicides. While 83 percent were suicides.
Look at those numbers again. If ten people die of gunshot wounds, on average, eight of them took their own lives. One was murdered. And the other one might or might not be a suicide.
It's abundantly clear that Oregon — and every other state in the nation — has a problem with people using guns to commit suicide.
Senate Bill 719 allowed a family member or a law enforcement official to take the issue before a judge. If the judge agrees that there is an imminent risk, a firearm can be confiscated temporarily.
If the gun owner disagrees, he or she can go to another judge and get the ruling overturned.
This has absolutely nothing to do with the Second Amendment.
In fact, during the legislative session, the National Rifle Association attempted to paint Boquist as "soft on crime." Wow, was that a bad decision. Boquist all but dared the NRA to take him on.
Boquist has led soldiers into battle on foreign soil. His conservative bona fides are ironclad. He's nobody's image of a namby-pamby liberal. He's also seen soldiers and veterans commit suicide. And his own step-son, a Navy veteran, committed suicide in February 2016.
If one gets past the notion that this is a Second Amendment attack, the other debate point is: So what? Will taking a gun away from a suicidal person stop the suicide?
And the answer is: Probably, yes.
Tricia Mortell, Washington County Public Health Division manager, and Dr. Kim Repp, Washington County epidemiologist, both agree that suicide is an impulsive act: Find a way to stop the impulse, and people often don't go through with the actual act.
A study from the state Public Health Division showed that, between 2003 and 2012, handguns were the mechanism of choice in 54 percent of people who committed suicide. Nothing else comes even close (both poisoning and hanging account for less than than 20 percent of suicides).
Simply put: Too many Oregonians are in a mental health crisis that leads to suicidal tendencies, and separating those people from firearms — temporarily—stands a strong chance of saving their lives until the crisis subsides.
Some lawmakers and a former lawmaker say they'll gather signatures to overturn SB 719 It seems like a half-hearted effort, as Boquist pointed out: the opponents need to gather 58,000 signatures. That could cost around $300,000. "They raised pennies," he told The Times. "They waited two months to even file their petition."
We hope the petition-gatherers gain no traction. This is a public-health solution to a public-health crisis.
And we praise Boquist and Burdick for crafting a bipartisan solution. Because that's how lawmaking is supposed to work.