In the last 10 days, there have been at least 11 shootings in Portland. Four people have been reported injured; one person – in a shooting deemed self-defense by police – has died; and a number of buildings and other property have been damaged.
Although many of these shootings are suspected by police to be gang-related, many are just old-fashioned American gun violence.
In response, although the proposals have been in the works for months, Mayor Sam Adams has proposed a tweaking of the city's laws to ostensibly reduce gun violence. Critics say the proposals will do nothing to reduce gun crime and are an infringement on gun rights, as well as illegal under state law. Adams says he welcomes public comment on the proposals.
The proposed law changes include:
• Impose a special curfew for juveniles who have been found by a court of law to have violated gun laws.
• Create new city crime of failure to control access to a firearm by a child
• Create new city crime of failure to report theft or loss of a firearm
• Increase penalties for possession of a loaded firearm in a public place
• Exclude people who have been found by a court of law to have violated firearms use or possession laws from areas of the City in which illegal use of firearms is markedly greater than other areas.
Mayor Sam Adams told The Skanner News that while there may be problems with some of the proposals, his hands have been tied by the state legislature.
"It's the (Oregon Firearms Federation) type of lobbying that has stymied efforts for common sense gun safety reforms," he says. "The reason city government has attempted to do virtually nothing for two decades even though it's a problem in neighborhoods is because of bullying tactics and strength of the gun use lobby and state law that strangles local government's ability to make it safer from illegal gun use."
State law prohibits cities from addressing "the sale, acquisition, transfer, ownership, possession, storage, transportation or use of firearms, their components or ammunition."
Kevin Starrett, executive director of the Oregon Firearms Federation, based in Canby, says he thinks the Adams' proposals are misguided, at best.
"I don't think they'll do any good," he told The Skanner News. "I think none of this is lawful and they're also absurd."
Starrett says state law would prohibit the city from making a law regarding the storage of a firearm in regards to its accessibility to minors. It would also likely restrict the city from imposing a $500 fine on someone who failed to report the loss or theft of their firearm, which could fall under the "acquisition, transfer, ownership and possession" categories of law.
For Tom Peavey at the Office of Youth Violence Prevention, anything being done about the gun violence is a good thing.
"We have to do something," he said.
Tracking lost and stolen firearms is important in an investigation, he says, and the other proposals will help give police additional tools to suppress the violence.
Ross Gustafson, publisher of the American Gun Culture Report, a Portland-based counter culture gun magazine, says other cities have tried regulating handguns within city limits. In short, the efforts have not yielded positive results.
"Chicago had among the harshest gun restrictions in the country, but remained notoriously violent," Gustafson told The Skanner News. "Focusing on guns while ignoring root causes of crime will not work. On a national spectrum, violence can be seen wherever economic class divisions are most severe, not where gun laws are the most lax. If that were not the case, Vermont would be a battleground and Washington DC peaceful."
Both Peavey and Adams also believe that a holistic approach will help put an end to this problem.
"This is a problem that involves lack of support for at-risk youth, the economy, lack of available jobs, lack of education," Peavey said. "It's because children aren't connected. There needs to be holistic treatment."
Adams says that the root causes of poverty and underemployment is a key focal point for his administration.
"Underemployment has impacted Portlanders of color (for generations)," he said.
By focusing on sustainable job creation, Adams hopes to help end this centuries-old problem.
And while the city is doing what it believes it can do within the constraints of state gun law, there are at least a few gaping holes in the proposal's logic. While a $500 fine might motivate a person to report their lost or stolen firearm, an additional $200 for losing the serial number might just push someone to tell law enforcement they sold it and didn't record the buyer's information.
In Oregon, it's perfectly legal to sell a firearm to another individual. No background check, law enforcement database or registration is needed, so long as the buyer and the seller are legally allowed to purchase and possess the firearm in question.
For Adams, this is exactly the kind of thing preventing city leaders from enacting reform.
"It's what we can do versus what is the full range of what should be done," he said.
In 2007, Portland's long-running experiment with Drug- and Prostitution-Free Zones ended a much-debated death. As it turns out, police had been using the exclusion orders disproportionately on Black residents, and many received the orders without so much as a conviction.
Adams told The Skanner News he doesn't want a gun crime exclusion zone ordinance to mirror the city's failure in those areas. He says he wants to be sure there is a balance between public safety and liberty.
"The exclusion zones have been terribly set up and managed in the past," he said.
The new zones would be narrowly tailored. The police could no longer exclude an individual based on an arrest or citation. The exclusion would be based on a gun crime conviction. The zones themselves would be narrowly tailored to only include areas of the city with high rates of illegal discharges, assaults or murders. The zones would also include exemptions.
In terms of how an exclusion zone could help reduce crime, one things for certain for Adams.
"The details matter," he said.
Gustafson says it could likely have a negative impact on recidivism.
"Even if it were applied to only the really nasty people who actually killed someone, now out of jail after 15 years, they couldn't be near their family and social support network in Southeast, say, without difficulty," he said. " This would do nothing but guarantee a whole new obstacle to reintegrating such ex-felons."