Proponents say measure could reduce gun deaths and injuries, but opponents dislike one-six-fits-all approach

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - Legislation expected to be proposed in the next session of the Oregon Legislature would require that gun owners keep their firearms in a locked container such as a gun safe or a room and secured with a trigger lock.

Jake Thomas

Oregon Capital Bureau reporter

State Reps. Rachel Prusak (D-West Linn) and Janeen Sollman (D-Hillsboro) shared legislation last week they believe would prevent gun deaths and keep firearms out of the hands of children and teens.

Speaking on Jan. 15 before a joint meeting of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Prusak pointed to the 2012 Clackamas Town Center shooting that left two victims and the shooter dead. She said the guns used in the shooting were stolen from the house of the shooter's friend, where they were left unsecured.

"The goal of safe storage firearm bill is to change the behavior of the minority of gun owners whose careless actions lead to death and injury of others," she said. "It is meant to be a protection for the teen looking at suicide or the random person looking to steal a gun and use it for a crime."

If passed, the legislation would require gun owners to keep their firearms in a locked container such as a gun safe or a room and secured with a trigger lock when not being used. It would also require firearms to be locked or secured when transferring them to another person, with some exceptions such as target shooting. Violations of the law would be punishable with a $500 fine.

The legislation would establish liability for injuries to people or property committed with a firearm that was transferred without first securing it. It would also hold gun owners liable for injuries caused by a minor who accesses their unsecured firearms. Gun owners also would have to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 72 hours or face a potential $1,000 fine.

Rendering firearms 'useless'

Sollman, whose district includes Hillsboro and North Plains, said that the legislation would be her priority during the February session. She added that she was responding to concerns from constituents and an incident in her district where a sixth-grade boy took his life with an unsecured firearm.

Calling the measure "common sense," she said that 75 percent of gun owners already secure their firearms.

Dr. Ben Hoffman, an expert on child injury prevention and pediatrician at Oregon Health and Science University, said that more than 75 percent of suicide attempts with a gun lead to death. He said the suicide rate has increased nationally and is now the second leading cause of death for kids. In Oregon, kids are more likely to kill themselves with guns than in other parts of the country.

"This is an epidemic and we need to do something about it," he said.

He opined that locking up guns decreases the risk of self-inflicted or unintentional firearm injuries among children and teens by up to 85 percent. He added that six states and the District of Columbia have safe storage laws and 14 states impose criminal penalties on adults when children access firearms unsupervised.

Oregon doesn't require gun registration and the rate of firearm ownership isn't clear. But a 2015 study in the journal Injury Prevention estimated that about one out of four Oregonians own firearms.

A similar proposal stalled in the 2019 Legislature. So far, interest in the new legislation appears to be high. During the Jan. 15 hearing, the committee room was packed, requiring an overflow room. The committee did not take public testimony.

The NRA and the Oregon Firearms Federation have come out in opposition to the safe storage mandate.

"Gun safety and storage is a matter of personal responsibility and every person's situation is different," a statement on the NRA's website said. "It is unreasonable for the law to impose a one-size-fits-all solution. This poorly thought-out proposal is without any consideration for personal circumstances. In short, this measure invades people's homes and forces them to render their firearms useless in self-defense."

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