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State of Safety says it ready to lead conversations about gun safetyin Oregon

PMG FILE PHOTO - A new group called State of Safety says it will be at the forefront of the gun control debate.

By Dirk VanderHart

Oregon Public Broadcasting

Two Oregon groups failed earlier this year to land gun safety measures on November's ballot. Now, one of them has a new plan.

In what's being pitched as a game-changing force, a proposed nonprofit calling itself State of Safety said it's ready to lead conversations about gun safety in Oregon — and how the state might prevent gun deaths going forward.

"Everyone has the right to be safe from gun violence," said Henry Wessinger, the group's executive director. "There is a series of steps that can be worked on in the same ways we worked on automobile safety that did not diminish anyone's right to drive a car, but over time made driving much, much safer."

Wessinger and his backers talk of State of Safety as a missing voice in Oregon's often fractious debate over firearms. While Ceasefire Oregon and others are active locally in pushing for tighter gun laws, Wessinger said their resources have been outmatched by gun rights groups on the other side of the debate. He's hoping to change that.

"There was a need to have an Oregon-based organization that had stronger financial capability and that was going to be focused on not just whether or not the next ballot measure would occur or the next law was passed, but rather was looking longer term," Wessinger said.

But that "stronger financial capability" hasn't landed yet. Wessinger said he's confident the group will be awarded a grant from a private charity to fund startup expenses, but wouldn't disclose which charity.

Wessinger, whose great-great-grandfather was pioneering Oregon brewer Henry Weinhard, said his long ties to Oregon will help the group raise funds.

Oregon stores can't refuse to sell guns based on age

Oregon retailers who refuse to sell a gun to a person based on age are violating the state's nondiscrimination law, the state's Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries ruled in a decision last week.

Hannah Brumbles, 18, filed a civil rights complaint with the state after Walmart refused to sell her a rifle. Her suit said the retail store discriminated against her based on age. The state sided with Brumbles. 

After the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting in February, several national retailers announced they would no longer sell firearms or ammunition to people under the age of 21.

Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian made it clear earlier this year in a memo to legislative leaders that he believes the state's public accommodation law would need an exemption — such as the one that exists for marijuana and alcohol sales — to give retailers the legal right to refuse selling guns to those younger than 21.

The state's labor commission is in the process of drafting legislation to allow retailers to make an age distinction when it comes to selling firearms without violating public accommodation law.

A hearing to award damages to Brumbles is set for November.

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