My View • Will Portland's plan to keep handguns out of criminals' hands really keep us safe?
by: Christopher Onstott, Portland police officers respond to a gang-related shooting in August at the intersection of Northeast Simpson and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Gang violence has spiked again in Portland, and the police are working with city leaders on a batch of potential new gun laws that Mayor Sam Adams has proposed.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams has taken a courageous stand against three tough opponents: gang members, gun traffickers, and the gun lobby. His recent proposals to curb illegal gun use are an essential move against those in Portland who deal in illegal weapons and recklessly put guns within easy reach of our children.

The recent shootings in Portland sadly indicate that the city needs to better control the use of illegal weapons. Mayor Adams' proposed ordinances to reduce illegal guns would help address this grave situation.

The mayor's proposed Child Access Prevention ordinance would prevent illegal access to firearms by children. The ordinance mandating reporting of lost and stolen weapons would choke off the market for illegal firearms. Increasing the penalties for carrying a loaded firearm in Portland (unless an exception applies, such as for people with concealed handgun licenses) would reduce gun crime in general.

The goal of Child Access Prevention laws is to reduce unintentional shootings, suicides and gang shootings by requiring gun owners to keep their guns from being easily obtained by children without their permission. CAP laws have been implemented in many states, and while they vary in the details, many, like Mayor Adams' proposal, hold responsible any adult who negligently allows minors access to weapons, including gun owners who carelessly store loaded weapons in places easily accessible to children in their homes and gun owners who provide easy access to weapons to underage gang members.

Two common exceptions to CAP laws apply when the weapon was used by a minor in self-defense or was appropriately secured but stolen by a minor.

The proposal to require reporting of lost and stolen firearms is aimed directly at eliminating gun traffickers. A gun trafficker legally purchases weapons (no limit exists on the number of weapons a person may legally purchase in any given time period in Oregon) and then sells the weapons to criminals who cannot legally buy them.

When the weapon is used in a crime, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tries to use the gun's serial number to trace the weapon back to the original purchaser. A gunrunner is easily off the hook by falsely claiming that the weapon was lost or stolen and then faces no penalties or prosecution.

The intent of this proposal is to stop gun trafficking, not to penalize law-abiding gun owners who have lost a gun or been a robbery victim.

According to a 2008 report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, seven states and the District of Columbia require reporting of lost and stolen weapons. According to ATF gun crime traces, in 2007 the average number of guns exported per 100,000 inhabitants from states requiring reporting of lost and stolen guns was 4.2. Oregon's rate was 13.3 guns exported per 100,000 inhabitants.

Clearly, mandatory reporting of lost and stolen weapons is a highly effective tool against gun traffickers.'Gun thieves play a critical and deadly role in the chain of violence and ATF places a major emphasis on solving these crimes,' said Special Agent in Charge Gregory Gant. 'Investigative experience has shown that felons, gang members and juveniles are some of the most common customers for stolen guns in the underground economy of our streets.'

Studies of increased penalties for gun crimes (including the Project Exile study in Richmond, Va.) have shownthat sentence enhancement decreases gun crime. According toauthors Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, 'Formal evaluations support the idea that sentencing enhancements can reduce the use of guns in crime, and thereby save lives.' ('Gun Violence: The Real Costs,' Oxford University Press, 2000)

Along with gang violence and gun trafficking, Portland needs to address other issues of gun crime, including domestic violence and access to guns by mentally ill people. But passing effective gun laws is difficult because the mayor's proposals face a well-funded gun lobby in Oregon. That gun lobby has already ensured that no Oregon cities can require weapons training, licensing or even background checks for private sales not at gun shows to prevent felons from buying guns.

Even people listed on the federal terrorism watch list can buy a weapon in Oregon.

We need to stand with Mayor Adams against the gangs and gun traffickers and tell them that our streets belong to all Portlanders. We need to tell the gun lobby that we will not tolerate illegal guns in Portland. We need safe neighborhoods and healthy children who don't have to live in fear of shootings.

We need the simple steps Mayor Adams has proposed to stop access to illegal weapons, stop the gun traffickers, and stop the shooting in our homes and on our streets.

Portland needs Mayor Adams' proposals.

Penny Okamoto is executive director of Ceasefire Oregon.

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