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My View: Expanded background checks a positive step for Oregonians

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Dr. Gene Uphoff


As an Oregon medical professional, I am encouraged to see our leaders in Salem using this legislative session to take positive steps to improve the health of Oregonians and help build safer communities around our state.

As a doctor, I am all too familiar with the toll of gun violence on our communities. From my vantage point, there is an inescapable conclusion: Gun violence is a public health crisis.

The statistics, both nationally and here in Oregon, are unsettling as they are convincing. Nationally, 30,000 Americans die from gunshot wounds every single year. Here in Oregon, each year there are more fatalities from firearms than from motor vehicle traffic accidents, according to one study (“Gun Deaths Outpace Motor Vehicle Deaths in 14 States and the District of Columbia in 2011,” Violence Policy Center, July 2014).

The good news is there is now legislation before them that would take some reasonable steps toward making Oregon a safer place to live. Last month, leaders in the Legislature introduced a bill that would close the loophole in Oregon law that allows some guns to be purchased without a background check.

I urge our leaders to pass this responsible legislation. By making this small, commonsense change to our laws, we can ensure that background checks are required for all gun purchases. Doing so will help keep guns out of the wrong hands and reduce gun violence in Oregon.

Here in Oregon, background checks are only done on some gun sales, but not all. Federal law requires background checks at licensed firearms dealers, and Oregon wisely closed the loophole that allowed people to buy guns without a background checks at gun shows. Sadly, dangerous people can still buy guns without a background check or questions asked where they are also readily available: the Internet.

This loophole is easily exploited by people who know that they would fail a background check when trying to buy a gun. Examples include convicted felons, domestic abusers, and the adjudicated mentally ill. It’s a huge loophole that allows easy access to guns with no questions asked. Our legislature and governor should pass this bill and help keep guns out of the wrong hands.

When we look at the experience of other states that have closed these gun law loopholes, we can appreciate the potential improvement in public health. Eighteen places have closed loopholes and expanded background checks on handgun purchases, making them less dangerous places to live: 46 percent fewer women are shot to death in domestic abuse situations; 48 percent fewer police officers are shot to death in the line of duty; and there are 48 percent fewer gun suicides.

A public health approach that draws on reasonable laws that protect families has been successful in reducing death and disability from infectious diseases, automobile accidents, unsafe food, and dangerous consumer products. We need the same common sense applied to the epidemic of gun violence.

Responsible gun owners here in Oregon know how dangerous firearms can be in the wrong hands. That’s why a recent poll of Oregon voters found that 83 percent of them said they’d support expanding background checks to cover all gun sales. Oregonians are reasonable people, so it’s no surprise that these changes are not controversial — not even close.

As a medical professional, I understand the importance of statistics, and I know that even the most commonsense laws won’t stop every act of gun violence. It’s a complex problem. There is no single cure.

But our legislators in Salem should use this chance to close this dangerous loophole in our gun laws and support this legislation. Lives are at stake, and they have an incredible opportunity — and duty — to make Oregon’s communities safer.

Dr. Gene Uphoff is a Portland resident who practiced family medicine until he retired recently. He is a Medical Professional for Responsible Solutions, and a member of the National Physicians Alliance.