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UPDATE: 'Shootings are scary' high schoolers tell commissioners during brief presentation

Photo Credit: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Dozens of Portlanders turned in weapons during a 2013 gun turn-in event. Several Oregon Episcopal School students will ask Portland's City Council this week to enact an ordinance banning the sale of 'assault weapons' and high-capacity magazines for most semi-automatic weapons.A handful of Oregon Episcopal School students asked Portland’s City Council on Wednesday to adopt a strict gun control measure.

It’s part of a semester-long class research project on engaged citizenship, says Mike Gwaltney, chairman of the OES History Department and a teacher at the Raleigh Hills school on Southwest Nicol Road.

During the council’s Wednesday morning meeting, OES students Maddie Mosscrop, Elizabeth Keeney, Zach Solomon, Rowan Berridge, Nut Cheepsongsuk, Meredith Loy, Teddy Morrissette, Jackson Thomas, Peter Graham and Chelsea Choi, proposed that the city adopt an ordinance banning the manufacture or sale of “assault weapons” and large-capacity magazines for semi-automatic weapons.

At the beginning of the council meeting, the students implored city commissioners to take action because “gun violence is an ever-increasing problem in our community.”

“This issue is far more important to students than adults realize,” Maddie Mosscrop told the council “This is something that pertains to nearly all middle schoolers and high schoolers in Portland. Guns are scary. Shootings are scary. When I was in middle school, I don’t ever remember having a lockout drill. Now, my little sister is trained in looking for places to hide.”

Elizabeth Keeney told the council that December's gang shooting outside Portland's Rosemary Anderson High School brought the message home to young people. One of the three students injured in the shooting, Labraye Franklin, had worked as a City Hall summer intern.

"Labraye Franklin could have been any one of us," Keeney told commissioners.

In their proposal, the OES students asked the council to adopt an ordinance saying, "that no person shall manufacture, sell, offer or display for sale, give, lend, transfer ownership of, acquire or possess any assault weapon or large-capacity magazine, unless expressly exempted by the Portland City Council."

“We believe this is a timely presentation, as the mayor spoke strongly about his desire to pass gun control measure during his State of the City address earlier this month,” Gwaltney said.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, who has advocated for stricter gun safety laws, in January 2013 signed on to a statement of principles endorsed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national group formed in the wake of the December 2012 shootings at Clackamas Town Center and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Hales proposed requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, banning “military-style” assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and making gun trafficking a federal crime.

Better gun safety laws

The students, nine 12th graders and one 11th grader, received a warm welcome (and applause from the council, which broke meeting protocol), for their proposal. However, they were told there was little the city could do to enact more laws restricting gun use because the state prohibits cities from taking that action.

“We’re chaffing a little bit under the restrictions in state law, but we think we have a little more room to do what we need to do,” Hales told the students.

“I think you’re right. There is a very large majority in our city that wants to see better laws on gun safety.”

Hales and other city commissioners encouraged the students testify when the Legislature began taking up several bills on gun safety this session.

The OES students’ measure is modeled on similar ordinances adopted by Sunnyvale, Calif., Highland Park, Ill., and Washington, D.C. It’s also an extension of ordinances adopted by Portland’s city commissioners in December 2010. Those proposals tightened firearms laws on endangering children, reporting the theft of guns and establishing “hot spots” where police had extra legal tools to combat illegal gun use in parts of the city.

The students spent several weeks researching other cities' gun safety ordinances and legal challenges, backing up their argument with reports of recent Portland-area gang-related shootings, the June 2014 Reynolds High School shooting in Troutdale and Saturday night's incident in which a 4-year-old Gresham boy accidentally shot his finger with a handgun.

"Gun violence is happening everywhere in the United States," according to the students' presentation to the council. "The victims can seemingly be anyone — your neighbor next door, or your friend living on a street close to you."

Blumenauer's proposal

The students’ proposal comes on the heels of a plan by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer announced Monday to treat gun safety like automobiles and tobacco use.

Blumenauer, a Democrat representing Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District, outlined his proposal during a Feb. 9 press conference with the introduction of a new report, 'Enough Is Enough.'

Blumenauer plans to turn the report’s nine proposals into federal legislation later this year. The proposals are based on the federal government’s response to automobile safety and reduction of tobacco use “two significant public safety challenges where the government responded in ways that dramatically reduced injury and death, success came from defining the problem, identifying risk factors, testing prevention strategies, and ensuring widespread adoption of effective solutions,” Blumenauer said Monday in Portland.

“While there is no single solution to the challenges associated with gun violence, insight can be gained from other challenges that the United States has faced and overcome,” he said.

Among Blumenauer’s proposals:

• Closing the private sale loophole so no guns could not be sold without a background check.

• Improve the mental health system so some people with mental illnesses cannot get guns.

• Authorize and increase research on ways to prevent gun violence.

• Limit access to “the most dangerous weapons.”

• Include firearms in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Act.

• Regulate gun sellers so all are complying with federal law.

• Enforcing existing gun safety laws.

• Train first responders to deal with active-shooter situations.

Kevin L. Harden is digital media editor for Pamplin Media Group. 503-546-5167. email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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