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By Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
Published: 07 May 2013

Four gun bills have been sent back to committee for more work because they don't have enough votes to pass the Oregon Legislature. But supporters of statewide gun laws say they can still pass --if lawmakers in Salem listen to their constituents. Meanwhile Multnomah County and city leaders are pushing ahead with ordinances and initiatives aimed at curbing gun violence.

Multnomah County Commissioner Deb Kafoury spoke at a press conference Monday, to announce the first Ceasefire Oregon gun turn-in of the year.  Anyone who has a gun they don't want can exchange it for a gift certificate of up to $150, with no questions asked.

Ceasefire Oregon Gun Turn-In
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,
 Saturday, May 11
Where:Lynwood Friends Church,
835 S.E. 162nd Ave.
Gift cards to Safeway or Fred Meyer for each working gun:
Handguns: $100
Rifles and shotguns: $75
Assault weapons: $150
Magazines—capacity 50 and above: $25
Pellet and BB guns: $10
Limit 3 per person
No questions asked

"Multiple statistics show that people are not safer with a gun in their home, and there have been too many tragedies when a child accidentally fires a gun or is shot by one," Kafoury said. "I ask anyone who has a gun to please, please turn it in."

Last month, Multnomah County Commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance that: prohibits firing a gun within the county; bans possession of a loaded firearm in public; makes it a crime not to report the theft of a gun; makes it a crime to allow a child to hold a gun without the owner's permission; and sets a 7 p.m. curfew for youth convicted of a gun offense.

At the Ceasefire rollout, Kafoury said she believes Oregonians have reached a turning point in the conversation on gun violence.

  • But if political leaders in Multnomah County are willing to act, the Oregon Legislature is dragging its feet. Four proposed gun bills have been sent back to committee for more work because they lack the votes to pass.Senate Bill 700, Universal background checks—would close loophole to require background checks for gun shows and private gun sales.

  • Senate Bill 347: Gun-Free Schools – Allows school districts to prohibit guns on campus.

  • Senate Bill 699: Guns in Public Buildings – Says citizens cannot openly carry guns in buildings where public bodies are deliberating.

  • Senate Bill 796: In-Person Class for Concealed Handgun License – Requires citizens to attend an in-person class before obtaining a concealed handgun license.
Mary Tompkins, a crime prevention specialist with the City of Portland works with Ceasefire Oregon to organizes gun turn-ins. Portland Police Chief Mike Reese and City Commissioner Steve Novick also spoke at the press conference

 Polls show Oregon voters support background checks by a large margin—81 percent favored them in a recent poll for the Oregonian. Yet so far, not a single Republican has agreed to vote for any of the four proposed gun bills. One lone Democrat, Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, also opposes background checks, along with all the other gun control measures.

Johnson seems unlikely to change her vote. Last year, she voted against a bill to ban guns from school grounds.And she has militant supporters in her district. A St. Helens softball league recently offered an AR-15 assault rifle as a raffle prize.

Still, Penny Okamoto, executive director of Ceasefire Oregon, says she remains hopeful. Sen. Peter Courtney would not have sent the gun bills back to committee if he saw no chance of a bipartisan agreement. Oregon Republicans could be persuaded to sign on, she says, to avoid the backlash that has stung Washington politicians who voted against background checks.

"Republican senators have seen that national backlash," Okamoto says.  "The people who voted against the federal background checks bill have seen their ratings drop, and they don't want that."

Sen.Kelly Ayotte, R—New Hampshire, for example, faced fury from voters and saw her poll ratings sink drastically. And Arkansas Democrat Sen. Mark Pryor who is up for re-election in 2014 has indicated he would change his vote. Sen. Harry Reid told reporters that others too say they are reconsidering, after hearing from angry voters.  

Johnson argues that the bills would not reduce gun violence because criminals don't obey the laws. But Okamoto says we might as well say we shouldn't make laws against murder because some people will murder anyway.

"We know that background checks work," she says. "Nationally eight million people have been stopped from buying guns because they failed the background check. So we know that people who are prohibited by law have been stopped from buying a gun. That's when they turn to back-alley sales and people selling guns out of the trunk of their cars.

"This is how criminals are getting are getting their guns, and it's why we need to stop people from buying guns without a background check. It's a common sense bill that will save lives."

Okamoto said polling suggests the majority of Oregonians believe school districts should be allowed to ban guns from school grounds if they choose.

The Oregonian's poll showed a majority in the state also favor banning assault weapons (52 percent) and high capacity magazines (53 percent). But thanks to intense pressure from highly vocal gun rights advocates, neither of those ideas became bills in the Legislature. 

At the rollout for the Ceasefire gun turn-in, Vaune Albanese,  executive director of the social services nonprofit Friendly House, spoke  about the murder of her brother. Joe "Vito" Albanese was one of four people shot in a Seattle café, May 30, 2012.

"The seasons have turned around since then and the fragrance of wisteria once again fills the air," she said.  "I will never be able to associate this time with anything but my brother's death, and how it has turned my life and so many others upside down.

Albanese urged Oregonians to make their voices heard.

""It's too late for my brother," she said. "It's too late for the good people who lost their lives at Clackamas Town Center, and the 26 children and adults who died in Newtown Connecticut – and as of this morning the 3,835 human beings who have lost their lives to guns since Newtown. But it's not too late to make a change."

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