Gresham, Fairview police chiefs speak about national debate

Gresham and neighboring cities haven’t been immune to the national gun debate or its residual effects.

Gun sales in Multnomah County have soared. Carrying AR-15s down Main Avenue has become a form of protest. And, of course, it was a December shooting at Clackamas Town Center that helped spur the nationwide discussion.

Sheriffs throughout Oregon have begun taking sides after Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller wrote a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, stating that he wouldn’t enforce any measures outlined in President Barack Obama’s proposed gun control legislation, which includes a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

But Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger believes a discussion on gun control needs to take place.

“When I took the oath as police chief, it was to uphold our constitution, but I also have to provide safety for the community,” he said. “And I think there needs to be a broad discussion on the relevancy of the Second Amendment and where we’re at.”

Junginger, who’s been Gresham’s police chief for four years, says his department hasn’t been impervious to recent tragedies in Newtown, Conn., and Clackamas. But as the two sides of the debate tussle over the issue of guns, the Gresham Police Department is waiting for decisions to be finalized before adding its voice to the discussion of the proposed legislation.

“I think we have to wait and see when it gets enacted, where we stand, because I don’t think you can selectively pick and choose what legislation you’re going to enforce,” he said.

In Fairview, Police Chief Ken Johnson says he wants to work with Oregonians to prevent further mass shootings.

“The factors leading to these events are often complex, and there are no easy answers when seeking to prevent them,” he said. “We encourage a multifaceted approach to proposals seeking to reduce these violent acts. Additionally, any proposal should be analyzed in light of their real potential to reduce such events.”

While the national debate rages on, Junginger says there are state laws that Oregon should examine.

If an individual purchases a gun at a store, it must be registered. But if that gun is sold from one private party to another, it doesn’t have to be re-registered.

Junginger says that makes it difficult to track down culprits, especially in Gresham, where roughly 85 percent of homicides involve gun violence.

“I think that’s part of the problem here,” Junginger said, adding that in Gresham, roughly 20 percent of the guns involved in crimes are not registered to the current owner. “Here, if it’s been through three or four different hands, it’s pretty difficult to track it down.”

While Gresham police have responded to very few incidents involving assault weapons in recent years, a demonstration during the middle of this month sparked an onslaught of 9-1-1 calls.

Two men carried rifles, including an AR-15, along Gresham’s Main Avenue and in Portland’s Sellwood neighborhood.

While Junginger understood their point of view, he disagreed with their tactic.

“They’re legally within the law, but it’s just crazy for somebody to do something like that,” he said. “What it does to the community, the hysteria it creates for the business owners, doesn’t make it right. You can’t yell fire in a theater, so why should you be able to openly carry an assault weapon down the street here and scare the bejeezus out of every one?”

As the country waits for decisions from Washington, several cities have started taking steps of their own to curb gun violence.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, Seattle held its first gun buy-back in more than 20 years. The guns were exchanged for gift cards, but Seattle police ran out of cards during an event that drew a larger crowd than expected.

But there are no plans for Gresham police to hold a similar event, Junginger says.

“Most of the people turning in the guns are the decent people who have them locked away in their house,” he said, adding that the cost is also an issue. “A lot of cities do it. I just don’t know how effective it is.”

Given how quickly guns are coming off the sale racks, local residents may not be inclined to give them back right away.

As reported in the Jan. 22 edition of The Outlook, the number of concealed handgun licenses has more than doubled in Multnomah County since the school and mall shootings.

Junginger says this run on the market is natural with people fearing a gun ban is coming and that more guns on the street can be a cause for concern.

“It’s putting more guns into circulation that have the opportunity to fall into the wrong hands,” he said.

Johnson, who is also the president of the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police, says a comprehensive plan needs several factors in order to be successful, including “adequate services for those in mental health crisis” and “adequate resources for enforcement and sanction to those violating existing weapons laws.”

In Gresham, schools could see changes to current safety measures.

Junginger says he plans to meet with Gresham-Barlow School District Superintendent Jim Schlachter to discuss ways to improve safety in schools.

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