A measure in Oregon’s legislature that would weaken the state’s firearm preemption law and allow localities to ban the lawful carrying of firearms in all public buildings was met with hundreds of voices in opposition during the first chance for public testimony on the bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee met this week to discuss SB 554, and they got an earful from gun owners and Second Amendment supporters testifying to oppose the legislation.
Most of the more than 200 people who testified online told the committee that the legislation seemed like a “mean-spirited” slam at law-abiding people who went through a legal process to get a concealed handgun permit. A total of 330 people wanted to speak in person, but the committee ran out of time to hear them all. The committee’s witness registration list was 27 pages long. More than 630 people submitted written testimony.
Sen. Kim Thatcher, a Keizer Republican and committee vice chairwoman, said after the hearing that gun issues always drew a big response. “Gun legislation, especially legislation that targets members of the public who don’t commit crimes (concealed handgun license holders), will always be controversial,” she said. “It deals with constitutional rights.”
There were several local and county officials testifying in opposition to the Senate bill, including one gun owner and county commissioner who told lawmakers that, if enacted, SB 554 would put officials like her at risk.
Yamhill County Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer told the committee that as a sexual assault survivor and single mother, she obtained a concealed handgun permit for protection. She said SB 554 would create a “minefield of gun-free zones” across the state.
“We are not the cause of gun violence,” said Berschauer, who three days earlier proposed an ordinance to make Yamhill County a 2nd Amendment sanctuary. “Everyone wants safe communities, but you are targeting the wrong people in this bill.”
Supporters of the legislation, on the other hand, tried to make the case that allowing localities to turn public buildings into gun-free zones would make people safer.. or at least feel safer.
Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, an emergency room physician and a public health advocate, supported the legislation, saying it could help create a “sense of welcome and safety” for public officials. “As an ER doctor, I have seen the devastating results of gun violence firsthand,” she told the committee. “As a Multnomah County commissioner, I feel vulnerable as a publicly visible elected official in a climate of rising anti-democratic extremism, and as a mom I talk with my kids regularly about their profound fears arising from school shootings across the country.
“As an elected official, I believe it is incumbent upon me and my colleagues to welcome the public and maintain the openness and transparency that’s foundational to our public process. For me, a sense of welcome and safety hinges on maintaining a building that is gun-free.”
Let’s be practical for a second and leave the Constitutional considerations aside. Absent installing magnetometers at all entrances to public facilities or engaging law enforcement to physically pat down all those coming inside, there’s no way that Meieran or any of her colleagues are going to know whether or not someone is violating a no-guns-allowed policy. There’s also no reason whatsoever to believe that someone with violent intent would turn around head back home if they saw that firearms weren’t permitted in a public facility.
If this measure makes Sharon Meieran feel safer, then I can only assume that she hasn’t really thought it through, because it offers only the illusion of safety. Not only that, it’s an empty promise at the expense of the rights of those Oregon residents who also want to feel safe, and carry a gun to do so.
Former law enforcement officer Gerald Boyd of Prineville opposed the bill, telling the committee that it “will do absolutely nothing to deter criminals, who defy laws and are ineligible to possess a concealed handgun license, from carrying a weapon in the places included in this bill.”
“What you will do, if you pass this proposed legislation, will amount only to a ‘feel good’ effort when, in reality, it will accomplish nothing other than to deprive law abiding citizens of their rights under the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Boyd wrote.
Members of the Gun Owners Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon opposed the legislation because they said it created too much confusion for gun owners. Michael Smith, chairman of the caucus, told the committee that the bill’s “maze of no-carry-zones” would “criminalize” carrying firearms. Smith argued instead for a more limited bill forbidding firearms on state Capitol grounds.
While I disagree with Michael Smith’s compromise of a gun ban only on the Capitol grounds, I’m glad to see the Gun Owners Caucus of the state Democratic party object to the legislation as it stands. I’m also pleasantly surprised to see that the Democratic Party of Oregon has a Gun Owners Caucus. Heck, they even have their own website.
With bi-partisan opposition to SB 554, there’s a real chance that this bill could be defeated. Hopefully Oregon gun owners continue to contact their lawmakers and respectfully but honestly explain why this piece of legislation would be a step in the wrong direction, both for our civil rights and our personal safety.