Lock up that gun? In Oregon, gun owners, safety advocates wrestle issue
In two-minute turns on Friday, Feb. 7, more than two dozen people staked out their views on legislation requiring Oregonians to keep firearms locked up or to face penalties.
They appeared before the House Judiciary Committee of the Oregon Legislature for more than three hours, speaking on House Bill 4005.
Before that testimony, the bill's sponsors — Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn, and Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland — took a moment to explain their purpose.
"Unsecured firearm storage is an important contributor to access and is especially dangerous to children," Sollman told the committee. "We need protections for youth and for those in mental crisis, and we need to keep firearms out of the hands of unauthorized users."
The legislation requires gun owners to secure their firearms with a trigger or cable lock, in a locked container such as a safe or gun room. Violators could be fined up to $500.
If a child gets ahold of an unsecured gun, the gun's owner could be fined up to $2,000. Gun owners also could be liable for an unsecured firearm that causes injury or property damage, according to the proposed legislation.
HB 4005 requires gun owners whose weapons are stolen to report the theft to police within 72 hours. The Oregon Health Authority would establish regulations for trigger locks and storage.
A work session also was scheduled for the bill at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, in Salem. Amendments to the bill, including clarifications on situations in which a firearm owner could be held liable, also will face public testimony during the committee's meeting.
Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer
Capitol Phone: 503-986-1446
Capitol Address: 900 Court St NE, H-272, Salem, OR 97301
Gun violence touches lives
Testimony was evenly split between those for and against the bill, including impassioned discussions of gun violence, home invasion, assault, losing a loved one and fear for personal safety.
Among the first witnesses was Paul Kemp, whose brother-in-law, Steve Forsyth, was one of the three who lost their lives in the Clackamas Town Center shooting in 2012. The shooter in that event had stolen the firearm he used from an acquaintance. The bill is named for the victims.
Kemp recounted notifying his nephew that his father had died in the incident, and how he hopes no one else has to shoulder that duty.
"The circumstances that allowed the Clackamas Town Center mall shooting years ago will finally be addressed by the 2020 Legislature with passage of HB 4005," Kemp said. "My sister and I learned (after the event) the owner of those guns had no obligation under Oregon law to report them as stolen. In fact, the legal gun owner did not call the police until the mall shooting was national news that afternoon."
Kemp and others cited numbers showing that suicides involving firearms in the United States have increased by 19% during the past decade. In Oregon, 82% of gun deaths are suicides, and less than 5% of suicide attempts without a gun result in death.
According to Ben Hoffman, a pediatrician and expert on child injury at the Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon's rate of suicide for children and teens is 34% higher than the rest of the country and, in the last five years, the rate has increased by 50%.
Klamath County resident Scott DeCarlo said he's saddened by statistics, but told legislators that doesn't give the Legislature the right to infringe on his Second Amendment rights. "I'm definitely sorry that some children have taken their lives. That's awful, but statistically, the number is quite small," DeCarlo said. "We should not be having this hearing. We have no right to do this. It's ludicrous to think that when I fall asleep, technically, that gun is no longer under my control, so I have to lock it. So, somebody kicks in my door in the middle of the night, I'm supposed to lock my firearm up when I'm supposed to be safe in my home?"
No more safe spaces
Rabbi Michael Cahana, representing the interfaith nonprofit Lift Every Voice Oregon, told the committee that there were no more safe spaces with the proliferation of firearms across the country. "There are no safe spaces in malls, in schools, as we've heard, and religious institutions as well, are under threat," Cahana said. "The safe storage of owned weapons is something we should all be able to unite behind. We stand strongly behind this bill and urge it's moving forward."
As contentious as the bill is, both sides contained their emotions to the tables sitting before the committee's dais, except for a witness identified as Manuel Martinez, whose testimony against the bill included mentions of "Marxism," "Communism," "impeachment" and "Trump" and continued in spurting shouts as he exited.
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