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Shootout over guns reveals deep divisions

It was a night of dueling applause lines at last week’s town hall forum in Hillsboro, and guns were at the heart of it.

A number of issues were addressed during an April 30 session at the Hillsboro Civic Center — the education budget, job creation, classroom sizes, the Public Employees Retirement System and even legislation regarding composting. But the most heated reactions during the entire 90-minute town hall, which drew about 65 citizens, came when the discussion turned to guns and new legislative proposals regarding guns.

State Sen. Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) said he could not support any of the four proposed gun measures on the legislative docket in Salem, because he believes the legislation could restrict the ability of law-abiding citizens to “own and operate” firearms.

“I’m not going to do that,” Starr declared, and the room erupted with a round of hearty applause.

Not swayed by the overt display of support for Starr’s position, state Rep. Gallegos (D-Hillsboro) offered his own perspective on the gun issue, and it was substantially different from Starr’s.

Gallegos pointed out that he is a veteran and a gun owner and he likes to shoot those guns. But he went on to say he believes reasonable lines should be drawn when it comes to gun rights.

“I can’t see what anybody needs an assault rifle for,” Gallegos said.

At that point, the half of the crowd that had not applauded for Starr burst into applause in support of the view expressed by Gallegos.

So let’s face it: guns may have supplanted abortion as the most emotional issue in politics these days, and there is no sign the debate will be resolved any time soon. There seems to be no room for middle ground on this issue, as any effort at tightening regulations related to gun purchases is seen by a significant portion of the populace as an attack on their rights.

For example, the most contentious of the four gun bills Oregon legislators have been wrestling with is Senate Bill 700. SB700 calls for a criminal background check for the transfer and sale of firearms between private individuals, with an exception for immediate family members. None of the four bills that were pending in the Oregon Legislature (on May 6, all four measures were tabled due to a lack of bipartisan support) placed any restrictions on the type of guns that could be purchased, or the capacity of the magazines.

At last week’s forum, Starr said he did not believe any of the proposed gun-related bills would have changed the outcome in recent high-profile shootings, including the Clackamas Town Center attack and the slaughter of elementary school children in Newtown, Conn.

Criminals would still find ways to get guns, Starr told the crowd, echoing a line opponents of gun laws have trumpeted over and over.

That claim may well be true, Sen. Starr, but is that a good reason to just do nothing? To my mind, that is a very defeatist and illogical approach.

On this issue, I find myself agreeing with the stance Gallegos is taking. Here’s the way I see it: I fully support the right of any responsible citizen to own a gun. At the same time, I do not believe our Constitution promises that anyone can own any kind of gun, at any time, without any restrictions.

I don’t see why law-abiding citizens would object to tightening the requirements for background checks to purchase lethal weapons. I like Oregon’s law that prevents someone at a gun show from buying a gun on the spot without any background checks at all. Taking a good look at someone’s history before putting a high-capacity firearm in his or her hands seems to me to be a wise measure. It might help keep guns from being purchased by a convicted felon, by someone with a history of mental illness or by someone who has espoused hatred of Americans. I don’t understand how anyone could object to that.

To me, it’s a common sense issue. It’s more reasonable to have a few people inconvenienced by having to jump through some additional hoops to get weapons rather than do nothing and see yet another community dealing with unbearable shock and grief.

This country is awash in guns. The National Rifle Association reports that Americans own nearly 300 million guns, with about 45 percent of households having at least one firearm in their homes. Given those figures, no one can honestly argue that anyone’s right to own a gun or guns has been impinged, and it would be a reach for anyone to claim the government has been making firearms too difficult to get.

Let the debate continue.



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