SALEM — After a short but emotionally charged debate featuring lawmakers telling stories of their own personal experiences as victims or witnesses of domestic violence, the House voted Thursday to tighten an existing law to keep firearms out of the hands of abusers.
House Bill 4145 passed 37-23. Its passage came a day after the vote was delayed by the high school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, a Republican candidate for governor, voted in favor of the bill, which was introduced at the request of Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat.
“Survivors of domestic violence should not have to live in fear that their abusers will possess a firearm,” Buehler said in a statement after the vote.
“They deserve to be heard and protected. This legislation makes a small change to existing policy, which was established in 2015 with bipartisan support. It will enhance efforts to keep women and children safe.”
Also voting for the bill was Rep. Richard Vial, R-Scholls, who said on the House floor that the Florida shooting had underlined his feeling that “enough is enough” when it came to gun violence.
Rep. Gene. Whisnant, R-Sunriver, voted with the majority of Republicans. In previous committee debate, many Republicans said they opposed the bill as too open to interpretation in ways that could curb legitimate gun rights.
The legislation would extend the restrictions on possessing or purchasing firearms or ammunition to individuals convicted of domestic violence or stalking, regardless of their marital status to the victim. The current law, passed in 2015, covers married couples but does not cover other relationship partners or family members.
Advocates of the current bill have dubbed the problem “the boyfriend loophole” because it allows convicted domestic abusers to continue to legally possess firearms if they were not married to the target of the abuse, share a child with that person, or live in the same home.
The bill would change Oregon’s Unlawful Possession of a Firearms statute to match the definition of domestic violence elsewhere in Oregon law. In addition, the bill adds a misdemeanor stalking conviction to a list of domestic violence misdemeanors that carry the prohibition.
The bill also requires convictions of domestic violence and stalking to be reported to Oregon State Police to stop illegal purchasing attempts. All such attempts will be logged and tracked by law enforcement.
Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, one of the leaders of the bill’s advocates, said a lack of a marriage certificate should not open people up to danger.
“We cannot allow the suffering of Oregonians who have already survived domestic violence and stalking to be compounded by a law that treats them as second-class citizens simply because they weren’t married to their abusers,” Barker said.
Only one lawmaker, Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, spoke against the bill. He said he was shocked and saddened by the massacre at the Florida high school, but that he did not believe the bill would have an impact.
“Today I will vote no,” Olson said. “I don’t think this bill is the answer to stop gun violence.”
As a former law enforcement officer, Olson said, he had seen many domestic violence situations involving baseball bats, knives and rocks.
“This bill does not fix the systemic problem facing the state,” Olson said.
Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, said he understood the position of those who opposed the bill, but he would still vote yes.
“We must not accept the notion that because we cannot solve all things, we must stand idle, and do nothing,” Evans said.
In a harrowing speech, Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, recounted her childhood cowering in fear from her abusive, alcoholic father.
“My mom did all she could to keep us safe and regrettably thought that returning to our house on the hill in Gales Creek for more forgiveness and promises was the only choice for us,” Sollman said. “Our continuing story had countless, sober moments from my father. I am, in a very strange way, thankful we had those opportunities, because I believe for certain that if it weren’t for my father’s absolute intense hatred of guns, our story would have a very different ending.”
Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone, said the bill balanced rights and responsibilities in gun ownership.
“There is no reason that we should not be working to keep guns out the hands of all convicted domestic abusers and of all convicted stalkers,” Meek said. “We owe it to every Oregonian to make sure that firearms are kept out of the hands of those who would do harm to others.”
In testifying earlier this month in favor of the bill before the House Judiciary Committee, Brown said there had been 66 people killed in the state due to domestic violence over the past two years. The majority died from gun violence.
“The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that woman will be killed,” Brown said.
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