Bend didn’t join other cities in rushing to pass restrictions on guns in the wake of a deadly February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and a national wave of student-led activism that followed, but city councilors say they’re interested in working with school officials to help students feel safe.
The Bend City Council agreed Wednesday to schedule a meeting with the Bend-La Pine School Board, students, Police Chief Jim Porter and school resource officers, the Bend Police officers assigned to schools. Councilor Barb Campbell, who requested the discussion Wednesday, said Bend’s March for Our Lives highlighted the need for the city to address gun violence.
“Some 4,000 of our citizens came out with that concern that our students might not be as safe as could be,” she said. “In our town, obviously the city and the school district are separate entities, but we are the ones who provide the school resource officers.”
She said she wants to hear from local police about whether they feel they can enforce background checks.
A state law passed in 2015 required background checks for all gun sales. Oregon State Police handles those background checks, but it’s supposed to tell local police departments and sheriff’s offices about attempted gun sales if the prospective buyer failed a background check.
Cities in both red and blue states have passed additional restrictions on gun ownership since the Parkland shooting.
The Chicago suburb of Deerfield, Illinois, passed a ban on assault weapons with a fine of $1,000 a day for owners, and Lincoln, Nebraska, banned the sale and ownership of bump stocks — a type of specialty gunstock that mimics the firing ability of an automatic weapon and drew national attention after it was used in a mass shooting at a Las Vegas country music concert last fall.
In Oregon, state lawmakers responded by passing a law backed by Gov. Kate Brown that prohibits gun ownership for people convicted of misdemeanor stalking or domestic violence against an unmarried partner. And an interfaith coalition is seeking 88,184 signatures by July 6 to place a ballot measure banning assault weapons and magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds on the November ballot.
Oregon law bars cities and counties from regulating guns in any way, but Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told students last month that he’ll push the Oregon Legislature to lift that preemption so the state’s largest city can ban assault weapons, according to media reports.
Bend Mayor Casey Roats, who attended the city’s March for Our Lives event, said he wanted to talk with school resource officers about what they’re seeing and whether they need more support from the city.
“I grew up around rifles, and I have strong feelings about the Second Amendment certainly, but no child in any school, anywhere around the country should not feel safe in their school,” he said.
But student organizers who spoke to the council cautioned against suggestions that would change school environments. Some discussions have focused on limiting access to schools or keeping classroom doors locked at all times.
“There are some safety measures and changes that need to be taken in the schools, but overall it would be detrimental to create a prisonlike environment,” Bend High senior Lauren Hough said.
Bend resident Matt Cowell told councilors he was a 10-year-old student in Evergreen, Colorado, on April 20, 1999, when two students at nearby Columbine High School shot and killed 12 students and a teacher. Nearly 20 years later, Cowell said current students are still worried about how to handle a school shooter, something he’s thought about since his school locked down in 1999.
“Be leaders in the conversation,” he told councilors. “I don’t want to be here 19, 20 years from now talking about the anniversary of Parkland after yet another school shooting.”
Wednesday’s discussion followed challenges Campbell and another Bend resident filed to the wording of Deschutes County’s version of a pro-Second Amendment ballot measure proposed in several Oregon counties. The initiative would add accessories — including bump stocks — to the definition of “firearm” and let Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson decide not to enforce state and federal gun laws he deems unconstitutional.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, who does not support the initiative, drafted the ballot title and language after county Clerk Nancy Blankenship determined that the initiative met basic requirements of the state constitution and could appear on the county ballot if supporters gathered enough signatures. Hummel maintains that his ballot title and language are sufficient and requested oral arguments.
In other business Wednesday, several Bend residents and eight sixth-grade girls from Pacific Crest Middle School pressed the council to consider a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags.
The council also unanimously voted to create the Neighborhood Leadership Alliance, a committee of representatives from Bend’s neighborhood associations that would advise the city on livability issues.
Councilors voted to exempt builders of mother-in-law apartments from having to construct sidewalks, regardless of whether they’re close to an existing sidewalk. These builders also wouldn’t have to pay a fee in lieu of building a sidewalk.
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