2:19pm

Thu April 4, 2013
It's All Politics

Oregon Weighs Own Gun Measures After Mall Shooting, Newtown

Originally published on Thu April 4, 2013 6:20 pm

Oregon state lawmakers have scheduled a marathon public hearing Friday on four gun control bills. The proposals include a ban on guns in schools and criminal background checks for private gun sales.

Opponents are lining up against the measures, but some gun control advocates say the proposals don't go far enough.

Just days before the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December, Oregon had a high-profile shooting of its own. A gunman opened fire in a crowded shopping mall in a Portland suburb, killing two and injuring one before turning the gun on himself.

In the aftermath of the twin tragedies, some Oregon lawmakers proposed a slate of gun bills. And that led to public rallies at the Oregon Capitol this year.

One February rally drew more than a thousand people — including Virgil Negru. Afterward, Negru toured the Capitol building with a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder and a handgun at his side.

"I like firearms, and I don't think they should be used to kill people like lately [has been] happening, but we do have the right to bear arms," he said.

It's perfectly legal to openly carry a gun in the state Capitol in Oregon if you have a concealed handgun license. But while no incidents were reported, the sight of people walking the marble hallways with semi-automatic weapons rattled some lawmakers.

That led to a proposed ban on openly carrying weapons in the state Capitol. The other measures would ban guns from school grounds; require more training for people who want a concealed carry permit; and require criminal background checks for private gun sales.

Too Much Or Too Little?

"Obviously, I'd like us to be bolder," says Democratic state Sen. Ginny Burdick, a longtime advocate of stricter gun laws. She hoped the December shootings would finally galvanize public opinion in favor of banning high-powered rifles and large-capacity magazines.

"Of course I would prefer to ban them in Oregon," she says, "because I think we need to take a stand that the kinds of mass shootings we've been seeing and the weapons of war on our street are unacceptable."

But Kevin Starrett, head of the Oregon Firearms Federation, says the gun control proposals are "desperate attempts to do something while not actually addressing any real problem."

Starrett's group calls itself "Oregon's only no compromise gun lobby" and has been able defeat gun control bills in the past. Starrett says the proposed measures are an attempt to exploit the shopping mall and elementary school shootings.

"People who commit crimes with guns are not going to subject themselves to the background check," he says. "So who is it having any impact on? It's having an impact on the people who are willing to obey the law — who wouldn't do anything bad in the first place."

A State Solution?

The Oregon lawmaker who scheduled Friday's hearing is Democratic Sen. Floyd Prozanski, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He says he wouldn't mind even stricter gun laws. But he thinks those laws would be better addressed by federal legislation.

"I don't find at this point where a state is going to be able to insulate itself away from the troubles and the harms when you can actually go to an adjacent state and buy the same equipment," Prozanski says.

The Oregon hearing comes just days after lawmakers in Connecticut passed a strict new gun law, reacting to the Newtown shootings.

After Friday's Oregon hearing, the Judiciary Committee will vote next week. If the measures pass, they could reach both the state House and the Senate by the end of the month.

Copyright 2014 NWNews. To see more, visit http://www.nwnewsnetwork.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel.

And we begin the hour with states and gun laws. Nearly four months after the attack on a Connecticut elementary school, a flurry of new gun legislation has been written, much of it at the state level. In a few minutes, we'll hear how that's playing out across the country.

CORNISH: But first, this specific example, Oregon. Lawmakers there plan a marathon public hearing tomorrow on four bills. They include a ban on guns in schools and criminal background checks for private gun sales.

Here's Chris Lehman of the Northwest News Network.

CHRIS LEHMAN, BYLINE: Just days before the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December, Oregon had a high-profile shooting of its own. A gunman opened fire in a crowded shopping mall in a Portland suburb, killing two and injuring one before turning the gun on himself. In the wake of the twin tragedies, some Oregon lawmakers proposed a slate of gun bills.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No letter written by a pen can take away from free people what God has given.

LEHMAN: And that led to public rallies at the Oregon capitol this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: They might as well try to regulate our souls. They have no control.

LEHMAN: This one in February drew more than a thousand people. Among those who attended the rally was Virgil Negru. Afterward, he toured the capitol building with a hunting rifle slung over his shoulder and a handgun at his side.

VIRGIL NEGRU: I like firearms, and I don't think they should be used to kill people like lately happening, but we do have the right to bear arms.

LEHMAN: It's perfectly legal to openly carry a gun in the state capitol in Oregon if you have a concealed handgun license. But while no incidents were reported, the sight of people walking the marble hallways with semiautomatic weapons rattled some lawmakers. That led to a proposed ban on openly carrying weapons in the state capitol.

Another measure would ban guns from school grounds, a third would require more training for people who want a concealed carry permit, the fourth would require criminal background checks for private gun sales.

STATE SENATOR GINNY BURDICK: Obviously, I'd like us to be bolder.

LEHMAN: Democratic State Senator Ginny Burdick is a longtime advocate of stricter gun laws. She hoped the December shootings would finally galvanize public opinion in favor of banning high-powered rifles and large-capacity magazines.

BURDICK: Of course, I would prefer to ban them in Oregon because I think we need to take a stand that the kinds of mass shootings we've been seeing and the weapons of war on our street are unacceptable.

KEVIN STARRETT: They're all desperate attempts to do something while not actually addressing any real problem.

LEHMAN: Kevin Starrett is head of the Oregon Firearms Federation. The group calls itself Oregon's only no compromise gun lobby and has been able defeat gun control bills in the past. Starrett says the proposed measures are an attempt to exploit the shopping mall and elementary school shootings.

STARRETT: Obviously, people who commit crimes with guns are not going to subject themselves to the background check. So who is it having any impact on? It's having an impact on the people who are willing to obey the law, who wouldn't do anything bad in the first place.

LEHMAN: The lawmaker who scheduled tomorrow's hearings in Oregon is Judiciary Committee chair, Democratic Floyd Prozanski. He says he wouldn't mind even stricter gun laws. But he thinks those laws would be better addressed by federal legislation.

STATE SENATOR FLOYD PROZANSKI: I don't find at this point where a state is going to be able to insulate itself away from the troubles and the harms when you can actually go to an adjacent state and buy the same equipment.

LEHMAN: After tomorrow's hearing in the Judiciary Committee, the panel will vote next week. If they pass, the measures could reach both the State House and the Senate by the end of month. For NPR News, I'm Chris Lehman in Salem, Oregon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.