Oregon gun hearing emotionally charged

Expanding background checks discussed at Legislature

By Lauren Dake / The Bulletin / @LaurenDake


SALEM — Armed state police officers stood at the ready at the Capitol on Thursday as lawmakers listened to testimony on one of the more emotionally charged measures of the short legislative session: expanding background checks on firearm sales.

The measure, Senate Bill 1551, would require background checks on gun sales between private parties. Proponents said it closes one of the final loopholes working toward ensuring guns aren’t sold to felons. Opponents argued it moves toward creating a gun registry and would hurt law-abiding citizens.

The hearing lasted more than two hours. Some people shared stories of personal tragedies, others were outraged at the possibility of another.

Gov. John Kitzhaber testified on behalf of the bill, calling it a “reasonable step.”

“This one bill can’t completely erase gun violence,” Kitzhaber said.

But expanding criminal background checks, the governor said, goes toward ensuring “guns don’t fall into the wrong hands.”

The governor was joined on a panel by Mark Kelly, the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head while serving as an Arizona congresswoman. Kelly told the committee that Oregon and Arizona have several similarities: the Western spirit, an appreciation for hunting and gun ownership, and unfortunately, the shared experience of public mass shootings.

Kelly said it’s “too dangerous to wait,” and it’s time to pass the measure.

When dangerous people have guns, he said, “We’re all vulnerable.”

Opponents of the bill, including Dan Reid, a representative with the National Rifle Association, said the measure would not prevent felons from getting guns. It won’t make any difference in stopping mass tragedies, Reid said, calling it “ineffective and unenforceable.”

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the key backer of the measure, shot back.

If the NRA’s policy is “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” Prozanski asked Reid, why wouldn’t expanded background checks to help keep guns out of felons’ hands be the right move, he asked.

Background checks are already required on commercial sales and at gun shows.

Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, said that only law-abiding citizens are affected when gun control laws are passed.

“Why is there a belief that if we just have one more law, one more law, we can prevent more creeps from getting a gun?” she said.

They don’t care “if we pass one more law.”

Jenna Passalacqua, whose mother, Cindy Yuille, was fatally shot at Clackamas Town Center near Portland, told lawmakers it’s been a year since her mother died and “nothing has changed.”

She urged lawmakers to pass this measure.

“The fact this is the strongest bill we have on the table right now is an embarrassment,” she said.

The committee did not vote on the bill. Although a similar measure did not make it to the floor for a vote in the last legislative session, Prozanski has said he is confident the Senate will vote on the measure in the coming weeks.

— Reporter, 541-554-1162; ldake@bendbulletin.com