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Don't rush to judgment on gun laws

Applications for concealed handgun licenses are spiking. Local gun and ammunition sales are soaring. Sheriffs in the Portland metro area are fielding so many gun-related questions from constituents that they feel compelled to write letters explaining their positions on gun-control laws that haven’t even been adopted yet.

Are these rational responses to talk at the federal and state level about stricter gun laws? Or, is the public going on a gun-buying spree based on an unfounded belief that their constitutional rights are about to be rolled back?

The answer, in part, can be found by looking back just four years, when Barack Obama was elected president. If you are a gun owner, you remember the mad rush for ammunition and weapons (handguns, shotguns and rifles) that began the day after Obama’s election.

By December of that year, you were lucky if you could find shells for your bird gun. Some stores began to limit the amount of ammo they would sell to any one customer so they could ensure enough supply for all customers. In other instances, the stores flat ran out of ammo.

In 2008 and early 2009, the run on guns and ammunition was based on the belief that a Democratic president would propose stricter gun regulations. As it turned out, nothing happened along those lines. Now, in 2013, we are seeing the same rush to buy weapons.

Gun stores in the metro area are reporting increased demand for firearms in the past two months. Similarly, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office saw applications for concealed-weapons permits jump from 194 in the first half of December to 444 in the first half of January. All this concern about guns also prompted Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett and Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton to write open letters to their constituents on the topic of their constitutional and legal obligations.

This time around, gun enthusiasts’ reactions are perhaps more understandable, because there are actual state and federal gun-control proposals being circulated in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School and Clackamas Town Center shootings. But even those proposals — expanded background checks, a reinstated ban on assault-style weapons and a limit on the capacity of ammunition magazines — would have little or no effect on hunters, collectors or people who lawfully carry concealed weapons.

The reality of the situation isn’t preventing hard-line Second Amendment advocates from bemoaning the government’s rush to “take away our guns.” They couldn’t be further from the truth—especially if we’re all willing to play by a few common-sense rules to keep such tools, which are designed to kill, away from the criminally insane.

In the meantime, what’s needed is a measured conversation about guns and their place in public safety. We’re encouraged when we hear reasonable voices that rise above the emotion surrounding this issue.

Many gun enthusiasts and a handful of gun-shop owners in the metro area have said they support some new regulations that don’t infringe on the right bear arms: mandatory locks or secure storage for certain guns, a limit on the number of rounds that can be held in a clip and a national requirement, similar to Oregon’s, that gun-show sales require a background check.

One example is Scott Gilbreth, co-owner of C&S Discount Firearms in Gresham, who told the Gresham Outlook newspaper that he could support commonsense proposals such as stronger background checks, a greater emphasis on locking up weapons to prevent theft and even consideration of a ban on high-capacity magazines.

As Gilbreth puts it, he is willing to give on the issue, in part because he has a 12-year-old son in middle school: “I just want the right changes to be made so it does make a difference.”

But no one is proposing any change that would stand in the way of the average, law-abiding, mentally stable American from owning a rifle, shotgun or handgun. This will become clearer when the uproar subsides and the gun rush of 2013 comes to an end.

Passing laws that make a difference seems to us to be an eminently reasonable approach, and we would encourage local residents to focus their attention on practical solutions to gun violence. While lawmakers should move quickly to find consensus on gun-control measures, there’s absolutely no reason for firearm owners to rush to their local gun shop.

Regardless of the outcome of the current gun debate, people will still have the right to buy weapons or obtain gun permits in February, March, April or May — or any other month they might choose.



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