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Senator responds to student, public questions about safety during a town hall meeting at McNary High School in Keizer. He also maintains hope for young immigrants threatened with deportation.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: PETER WONG - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, right, makes his opposition known to a proposal for arming teachers during a town hall meeting Friday, Feb. 23, at McNary High School in Keizer. Seated at the table is principal Erik Jespersen, who drew tickets for student and public questions at the event.U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden says he opposes arming teachers and other staff — a proposal backed by President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association — as a way to deter school shootings.

"I am for teachers teaching," the Oregon Democrat said Friday, Feb. 23, at a town hall meeting attended by students and the public at McNary High School in Keizer. "I am opposed to arming teachers."

Still, Wyden said, neither lawmakers nor the public can brush off the latest in an increasingly long list of mass shootings.

"It's almost as if these shootings in schools have been normalized," he said. "We cannot accept this. We are better than this."

Wyden spoke frequently and at length to numerous audience questions — the first one asked by Lauren Murphy, a junior who writes for The Piper campus newspaper — in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shootings at a Florida high school that left 17 dead.

Murphy asked what measures Wyden favors, and after Wyden listed a few, he noted that Trump shifts positions frequently.

"What is going to be the next proposal?" Wyden asked. "Is the president going to tweet tomorrow, Saturday, that ministers should come to church with their robes and Bibles and Glocks (pistols)? You really have to wonder what is next here."

Although Wyden did list some things he favors, he said legislation alone will never be enough.

"If any member of Congress or elected official stands before you and says that if we do one, two and three, we have completely solved the problem, they are not in touch with the way the world works," he said.

Whether Congress takes up the issue after the current Presidents Day break is uncertain. The most recent Senate debate was in 2013, in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut that left 20 dead. But nothing advanced.

What Wyden favors

Wyden said he favors:

• A more complete federal background check for would-be firearms purchasers. He voted for such a proposal in 2013, as did fellow Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley.

Oregon is among the states that have acted on their own. In 2000, voters extended checks to buyers at gun shows, and in 2015, lawmakers extended them to private transactions, except those within families. Neither is covered under federal law.

In 2017, lawmakers authorized court orders to deny access to firearms, for up to one year, by people deemed a risk to themselves or others. In the current session, they extended a ban on guns to some domestic abusers and sent HB 4145 to Gov. Kate Brown, who will sign it.

• A ban on devices, such as bump stocks, that enable a semi-automatic weapon to fire like a machine gun. Used by a shooter to kill 59 people at a music festival last year in Las Vegas, Trump now says he wants to ban them, but it may require congressional action, because bump stocks are not defined as firearms.

• Removal of a 2005 ban on federal product liability for gun makers: "I think the idea of gun makers are held completely harmless in all of this is just unacceptable."

• Removal of a 1996 ban on federal research into gun violence, a step Wyden said would enable the National Institutes of Health to provide facts.

Later, Wyden responded to a student who noted that the Florida shootings occurred despite the presence of an armed sheriff's deputy, who failed to confront the shooter. The deputy has since resigned and the sheriff said his agency is investigating.

"The point is that you can never legislate perfection, that every person will do their job exactly at the right moment," Wyden said.

"What we are talking about is changing the odds, putting the odds in favor of students and apprehending people who have clear problems early on."

Wyden said the shooter who gunned down then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at an outdoor event in 2011 in her Tucson, Ariz., district apparently was known to have problems "but nobody connected the dots."

Giffords survived — and now is an advocate for Americans for Responsible Solutions, which she founded with her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly — but six people died, among them a federal judge and a Giffords aide. The shooter is in a federal prison.

Since then, police have been present at town hall meetings of Oregon members of Congress. Their presence is not publicized, although Wyden did praise Keizer police by name at the McNary meeting.

McNary Principal Erik Jespersen said Salem-Keizer schools — second only to Portland in Oregon student enrollment — do plan for such events with district staff, though he chose not to discuss details.

But he said during the meeting there is one thing that 2,000 students at his school can do, aside from all the arguments.

"A lot of times, the students who have gone into these schools and shot and killed some of their classmates have warnings — things they have put on social media," he said. "Often there are a lot of red flags with these shooters.

"You know your classmates. You know who is having a hard time. If you hear of those things, you need to let us know."

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Wyden still holds hope for 'dreamers'

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden says he has not given up on extending protection from deportation of young immigrants known as "dreamers" — 11,000 of them enrolled in Oregon — who were brought to this country illegally as children.

President Donald Trump's order to end his predecessor's program, officially Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, takes effect March 5.

The Senate failed to muster a 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority for any of four proposals on Feb. 15. Wyden and fellow Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley supported two, both of which won more than 50 votes, and opposed two.

"We're going to be back," Wyden said at a town hall meeting Friday, Feb. 23, at McNary High School in Keizer. "My pledge is to all the dreamers … is that I am going to be at this until we get justice for the dreamers. That is non-negotiable. They are exactly the kind of people who can make a difference."

Two proposals were nearly identical. They would have allowed a path to citizenship for 1.8 million eligible immigrants — counting those in addition to the 700,000 enrolled in DACA as of last fall — in exchange for $25 billion for enhanced border security, although not specifically for a border wall with Mexico.

One was sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del. The other was by a bipartisan group, who proposed to bar the young immigrants from sponsoring their parents for legal status. The first mustered 52 votes; the second, 54.

"We said we will support border security, but that wasn't enough" for Trump, Wyden said.

"We said we will go along with building a wall, even though we detest the idea of building a wall … but if that is what it takes to get justice for the dreamers, we'll be for it.

"The president said no, I don't care, I want my wall and two or three other things."

Trump sought curbs on family-based legal immigration — its critics call the policy "chain migration" — and an end to a diversity-based visa lottery. Wyden and Merkley voted against that bill, which drew only 39 votes.

They also opposed another bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., to deny federal aid to states and local governments — including Oregon — that fail to aid federal immigration efforts. The bill got 54 votes, including some from Democrats up for election in Republican-leaning states.

Wyden's parents were immigrants who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Wyden's father, Peter, ended up in the Army in Europe during World War II, when he was able to parlay his knowledge of the German language to write anti-Nazi material.

Almost a half century later, journalist Peter Wyden wrote "Wall: The Inside Story of Divided Berlin," the German capital split into Western and Communist-controlled sectors after the war. The book was published in 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down and opened the way for reunification of Berlin and Germany the next year.

"To me, building this (Mexico) wall stands in direct contrast to everything those immigrants did to make a difference for our country," Wyden said.

— Peter Wong

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