Incoming state Sen. Tim Knopp and state Rep. Jason Conger appeared Thursday night before nearly 100 members of the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association, fielding questions on gun control measures expected to surface in the Oregon Legislature.
The two Bend Republicans will both be sworn in Monday, the opening day of the legislative session. Conger won a second term in the November election; voters returned Knopp to Salem eight years after he completed the last of his three terms in the House.
Knopp held the stage for most of the 90-minute session, and acknowledged that due to recent high-profile shootings — most notably the Dec. 14 rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut — supporters of gun control are more emboldened as both the Legislature and the U.S. Congress return to work.
“The good news is locally you elected the right people last November,” Knopp said, pausing for applause. “But it takes more than just winning an election, because there are people who want to use tragedy as opportunity to take your rights.”
Knopp told the audience it will fall to gun owners to resist any gun control proposals introduced this session, and encouraged COSSA members to contact legislators and media outlets with what he called “the facts” — that gun control does not work.
“Gun control is essentially citizen control,” Knopp said. “It's a power grab.”
State Sen. Ginny Burdick, a Southwest Portland Democrat, has already announced her intention to introduce legislation that would ban the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Knopp said ammunition taxes and tighter standards for the issuing of concealed carry permits may also be introduced this session.
Knopp said while he believes Central Oregon and Deschutes County are generally supportive of Second Amendment rights, much of the rest of the state is less so. He said Democrats from rural areas may be key votes on any upcoming gun control legislation, singling out state Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scapoose and state Rep. Arnie Roblan in particular.
Conger said he considers himself a strong supporter of gun rights, but volunteered his support for one piece of gun control legislation, Oregon's law requiring criminal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun at a gun show. Oregon is one of just six states with such a requirement.
“It's very inconvenient, it's extremely inconvenient sometimes, but it is reasonable,” he said.
Conger also opposed the proposal made by National Rifle Association Executive Director Wayne LaPierre and other gun rights advocates for posting armed guards in every school in the country, saying he would have felt like a prisoner attending a school staffed with armed guards.
“I'm not a big fan of guns in school because we are human and we make mistakes. We drop things, we forget things, and leaving them out with young people who don't know what they're doing with firearms is dangerous.”
Conger and Knopp both told the audience the focus should not be on guns, but on mental health care, with Knopp calling the mental health aspect of the mass shooting phenomenon the “most important question.”
Neither man offered any proposals as to how state laws dealing with the mentally ill might be changed.