Oregon is one vote and one signature away from enacting a law that sets locks and storage requirements for firearms and also bans guns from some public places.
It will be up to the Senate to decide whether to accept an amended bill, which the House passed on a largely party-line vote on April 29, that combines the changes. If the Senate goes along, Senate Bill 554 heads to Gov. Kate Brown. If it does not, it would force a House-Senate panel to negotiate the differences. The Senate had not yet scheduled a concurrence vote.
Oregon would join 11 other states for locks and safe storage requirements, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation website.
The original Senate bill dealt only with barring holders of concealed-handgun licenses from bringing firearms into some public places. But the House, in approving the revised bill by a 34-24 vote, narrowed its scope even as it added the storage requirements.
Under the revised version, the Capitol in Salem would be off-limits to firearms, but not other state buildings. The Portland airport passenger terminal would be off-limits; it is unclear whether Eugene and Medford airports are affected.
Governing boards of public schools, community colleges and state universities would have the option to ban firearms — with notices to be posted at entrances and online — but cities, counties or special districts would be unable to regulate firearms.
Support came exclusively from Democrats.
Rep. Rachel Prusak of West Linn, a nurse practitioner, was the bill's floor manager and led a group of six women — all from Portland and its suburbs — to speak for it.
"My fellow sponsors and I were elected by our communities precisely because we told them we would lead Oregon to a future with less gun violence," Prusak said.
"When we look at the facts of gun violence across Oregon — the rates of suicide, accidental gun deaths, and gun deaths in the home — there is no way we can sit back and do nothing. This bill aims to prevent future tragedy, not to curb our liberties."
One of them was Rep. Dacia Grayber of Portland, who recalled a gruesome death of a child by gunshot in her early days as a firefighter and paramedic. (She now works for Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue.)
The boy, only 3, died when a friend found a gun under a bed while they were playing.
"A child died that day. Lives were irreparably changed, included my own. This scene plays out across this country, time and time again. It does not have to," she said.
"There is no other legislation I will work on in my career that will so profoundly affect the public safety crisis of gun violence and better serve the purpose I serve — to save lives."
The others were Reps. Wlnsvey Campos of Aloha, Lisa Reynolds of Portland, Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego and Janeen Sollman of Hillsboro.
Three of the 37 Democrats voted no: Paul Evans of Monmouth, David Gomberg of Otis and Mark Meek of Oregon City, the only Democrat who spoke against it. Meek said the focus should be on curbing gun violence, particularly in Portland.
"I feel that the intent of saving lives, while admirable, is misguided in its application," Meek said. "This bill would have us infringe on the liberties of legal gun owners in their homes while we continue to ignore the issues of increased gun violence in our own communities."
"All this bill does is create criminals out of responsible gun owners."
Opposition came largely from Republicans, mostly from rural areas. Exceptions were from Clackamas County, where both Meek and Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby spoke against it. No Republicans voted for it.
Republican Rep. Greg Smith of Heppner, the longest serving member of the current House, said the issue is viewed differently in eastern, central and southern Oregon — many of whose members spoke out against the bill.
"I can tell you when i am done speaking, Senate Bill 554 is still probably going to pass," he said. "But you know what, the folks in District 57 deserve to have their voice heard."
Smith said having guns at home is viewed as personal security, and there are other ways to deal with issues of accidents and suicides.
"Why can't we solve the issue of taking care of our kids, protecting our kids, taking care of behavioral health without punishing these good folks? It makes no sense to me."
The bill does not have an emergency clause, which means that if it becomes law, opponents have 90 days from the close of the 2021 session to obtain 74,680 voter signatures to force a statewide election. The number is set by the Oregon Constitution, which specifies 4% of the votes cast for governor in the most recent election in 2018.
Drazan said if the bill becomes law, she hopes opponents will pursue that course.
"It will not be easy, but it is possible, if you are willing to do the work," she said. "Do not give up, do not walk away, do not move away."
But Drazan also chided some bill opponents who suggested that Republicans should have walked out to deny the majority Democrats the number of members (40) required for the House to conduct business. Some Senate Republicans came under intense criticism — and Leader Fred Girod of Stayton faces a recall effort — for failing to do so during the March 25 debate.
Unlike the Senate, however, House rules empower Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland to levy fines of $500 each day for unexcused absences.
"My caucus has stood here today to engage the hearts and minds of those who disagree with us," Drazan said.
Locks and storage
Part of the revamped bill proposes requirements for firearms locks and storage already written into a separate House bill, which the House sent back to committee.
Under the revamped bill, guns must have trigger or cable locks, be stored in a locked container or in a gun room. An offense is a Class C violation, which carries a maximum fine of $500, unless someone under age 18 obtains access, in which case it is a Class A violation with a maximum fine of $2,000. No jail time is imposed for violations.
Rep. Campos recounted two incidents last fall, one involving a 3-year-boy in Aloha who found a gun inside a table and shot himself, the other a 15-year-old boy in Beaverton who was depressed.
"Our community members are crying out for help," Campos said. "Proper gun safety training is important. But as we have seen, it will not help a child who accidentally discharges a gun in the home or a teen in mental health crisis whose access to a parent's firearm is unhindered. This bill will help so that these traumas, these horrific losses, are less frequent."
The bill also requires prompt reporting of stolen firearms. Its first sections are named in honor of Cindy Yuille and Steve Forsyth, who died on Dec. 11, 2012, in the Clackamas Town Center shootings. The assault-style weapon used to kill them was found to have been stolen.
Rep. Mark Owens, R-Ontario, said: "This bill does infringe on our Second Amendment (federal) rights."
Ban is narrowed
The other part of the revamped bill narrows the scope of a firearms ban included in the original SB 554, which passed the Senate on March 25.
GOP Leader Drazan described it as "two gun bills jammed into one."
The changes would still bar the estimated 300,000 holders of Oregon concealed-handgun licenses from bringing firearms into some public places. State courts, which often are in buildings maintained by counties, already are off-limits to firearms except those for law enforcement.
But the scope of the ban would be narrower under the House version.
Licensees would be barred from bringing firearms into the Capitol, though not from other state buildings as originally proposed in the Senate.
They would be barred from bringing firearms into the passenger terminal at the Portland airport, defined as one with annual passenger traffic of more than one million. (Eugene and Medford airports each had counts around one million passengers annually prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.) Passenger boarding areas and firearms shipments in luggage at all commercial airports are controlled by federal law.
Firearms bans would be optional at Oregon Health & Science University, seven state universities, 17 community college districts and 197 school districts if their governing boards impose them on buildings and grounds under their control. Notices of bans must be clearly displayed on buildings and grounds and posted online. (Bans would not apply to public sidewalks and streets.)
"It acknowledges that communities are different," Prusak said. "It lets them decide whether people with licenses can bring loaded firearms into their buildings."
The revamped version of the bill drops the option for cities, counties and special districts to bar firearms from their buildings and grounds.
Offenses would be considered Class A misdemeanors with maximum punishments of one year in jail and a fine of $6,250.
The bill also would raise initial filing fees for concealed-handgun licenses from $50 to $100, and for renewals, from $50 to $75.
NOTE: Adds quotes from House debate; rewrites to focus on forthcoming Senate vote.
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