Others Say - 2/21/14

Two sides of gun control bill

Gun control bill not likely to yield results

Gun control issues returned to the forefront of the Oregon Legislature recently, with a three-hour hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Senate Bill 1551, which would expand background checks in Oregon to include private party gun sales.

Supporters of the bill, including Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the author of the bill and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, argue that the bill would close one of the final loopholes in Oregon’s gun control laws.

The hearing featured plenty of passionate arguments on both sides — but it seems unlikely that the arguments changed any minds. A similar bill was introduced in the 2013 session, but it failed to pass out of the Judiciary Committee.

Speakers favoring the bill at last week’s hearing included Mark Kelly, the husband of former Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman gravely injured in a 2011 shooting.

“When dangerous people get guns, we are all vulnerable,” Kelly said. He said he and his wife, both longtime gun owners, believe in “keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

The problem, however, is that chances are slim that Senate Bill 1551 would do anything to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

Even supporters of the bill admit that criminals and dangerous people still would find ways to get guns. And, for that reason, the measure would be ineffective at stopping the random shootings that inspired the bill.

In fact, the only people who really would be hassled by the bill would be law-abiding gun owners. They’d find a way to deal with the inconvenience, but why should they do that in service of a bill that won’t deliver any real results?

Part of the reason gun control measures got so little traction during the 2013 session is that legislative leaders and Gov. John Kitzhaber, from the earliest days of the session, showed virtually no appetite for tackling such divisive issues. Some of that has changed over the past year — Kitzhaber, for example, testified in favor of the bill a couple weeks ago — but we’re still not sensing any enthusiasm from the Legislature to get entangled in this issue during this 35-day session.

The Legislature should follow the example it set during its 2013 session by ignoring this feel-good but ineffective gun control bill. If legislators want to do some real good, they could follow a suggestion from Albany Sen. Betsy Close and focus on improving mental health care in Oregon — an effort considerably more difficult but could result in some real progress in solving the issues that Senate Bill 1551 purports to address.

­ — Albany Democrat-Herald


Expanding checks threaten  no  one’s  rights

Opponents of a bill in the Oregon Legislature to require background checks for private gun sales trot out the usual argument that more gun control laws won’t solve the problem of gun violence. Of course, they won’t entirely solve it. But that’s not a reason to do nothing.

The bill, which was introduced last session but failed to make it out of committee, would expand Oregon’s existing background check law to cover sales between private parties. The law now requires background checks by licensed dealers and sellers at gun shows. The only exemption under the proposed bill would be transfers of guns between family members.

The intent behind the law is to prevent convicted felons, some others with criminal backgrounds and those with a history of severe mental illness from owning firearms.

Foes testifying in a committee hearing in Salem last week argued that background checks rarely identify people who shouldn’t have guns, and that criminals will find ways to get guns anyway. None of the recent mass shootings would have been prevented by background checks, they said.

It’s true that nearly all applicants to buy a gun in Oregon pass the background check. It’s also true that 1 percent failed the check in the past two years — about 2,000 each year.

That means 4,000 guns did not wind up in the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. We’d call that 4,000 success stories.

There is no way to know how many of those who failed the background check might have used a gun to injure or kill another person. It’s also impossible to know how many managed to get a gun some other way. Perhaps some of them bought a gun from a private seller or over the Internet, which is why it makes sense to require background checks for those sales, too.

A recent poll of Oregon residents found 78 percent of respondents favor background checks for all gun sales.

Americans have a clear right to own guns, but that right is not absolute, with no rules. The courts have repeatedly upheld reasonable laws intended to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.

No gun law can possibly prevent every misuse of a gun. But a law that keeps even one gun out of the hands of even one unstable or dangerous person who might shoot someone else with it is a law worth supporting.

— Mail Tribune


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