Our Opinion: Don't give up on push to revise gun laws
Following three national tragedies involving mass murder with firearms in recent days, it is neither too soon nor too late for the Oregon Legislature to begin thinking about potential bills for the 2020 session.
Right now, many Americans are focused on illegal gun violence, thanks to a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, July 28, resulting in four deaths and 13 injuries; a shooting in El Paso, Texas, Aug. 3, resulting in 22 dead and 24 injured; and a shooting in Dayton, Ohio, Aug. 4, resulting in 10 dead and 27 injured.
Seven days. Thirty-six dead.
It is unfortunate that it takes such stark numbers, such unbridled public violence, to stir the debate. But it has.
Republicans who steadfastly oppose any legislation to curb the use and possession of firearms are openly discussing such laws. President Trump on Friday, Aug. 9, said he wants Congress to investigate stricter background checks for gun purchases.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it will be a topic of the session starting in September, after the annual August recess. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Republican, has reversed his previous position and has introduced proposals to temporarily remove guns from people deemed to be a risk to themselves or others; to strengthen background checks; and to provide more resources for mental health care.
All of this is better than the usual nonsense we hear, after every one of these senseless tragedies, about the alternative causes of the deaths: It's the fault of video games. It's the fault of television. It's the fault of the internet. It's the fault of mental health problems.
No, the cause of gun violence is the ridiculous ease in which anyone in America can get a gun.
Video games in Japan are as violent or more violent than here. Television in the past was, in some ways, more violent than it is today (Imagine showing a "Tom and Jerry" cartoon on public television today; parents would flip out). Nearly every country on Earth has access to the internet. Many countries' have much less access to mental health care than do Americans.
But only America sees the never-ending churn of mass shootings.
Each year, guns reap a terrible toll in our state (and in every state). Guns claimed 528 lives in Oregon in 2017, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And every year, Oregon legislators — usually led by Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland — hash through one or more bills to reduce that terrible toll. Some years they pass. Others, they fall to defeat.
Burdick recently told the Oregon Capitol Bureau — a news collaborative that includes the Tribune — that she has not yet crafted bills for 2020. But she is expected to do so soon.
The recent, unholy spate of killings comes just months after the Oregon Legislature badly fumbled an omnibus bill to address illegal gun violence. Senate Bill 978 would have required gun owners to secure their guns at home; would have imposed regulations on "ghost" or 3-D printed guns; and would have required gun owners to report lost and stolen guns, among other provisions. It likely had the votes to pass, according to those who track these things.
Alas, the Senate Republicans walked out of the Legislature for four days — the first of two such walkouts this session — to protest a business tax to increase public school funding by $1 billion per year.
Democrats were desperate to get Republicans back into the building for a vote on the Student Success Act. So desperate that they traded away the gun bill, plus a bill to tighten the rules on who can avoid mandatory immunizations against preventable childhood diseases such as measles and whooping cough.
That's right: The price for "Student Success" in 2019 included more unsecured guns in children's homes, and more children exposed to dangerous diseases.
As the saying goes, you can't make this stuff up.
Our state did see some common sense reforms of late. The legislators this year closed loopholes in the state's law to prevent people who pose a risk of harm to themselves or other people from having guns. These often are called "red flag" laws.
Oregonians again will see a bill on safe storage of guns. Supporters of Initiative Petition 40 filed an effort last month to get the issue on the ballot in November 2020. The petitioners' goal is for lawmakers to pass such a bill in the short 2020 session, starting in February. In the event they do not, the issue would go to voters that fall.
Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr. of Grants Pass has said there is a chance he could support some form of safe storage legislation.
Meanwhile, Burdick and others likely will push other small-step bills to reduce incidents of illegal gun violence. She has in the past; she's indicated she'll continue to do so in the coming session.
Sen. Burdick? You other lawmakers? Keep going. Bit by bit, any bill that reduces the likelihood of illegal gun violence is a good thing.
We have written before that "enough is enough." It was true then; is true now; will be true next month, after several more mass shootings. Remember, the nation has experienced 17 mass shootings — defined by the FBI as an incident in which three or more people, not including the suspect, are killed — so far in 2019. That's an average of about one every 12 days.
The first draft of this editorial was written on Friday, Aug. 9.
Here's hoping we won't have to update those numbers before the issue hits the stands on Thursday, Aug. 15.
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