Hillsboro forum turns heated when firearms bills come up for discussion

On April 30, state Reps. Ben Unger and Joe Gallegos, both Democrats from Hillsboro, and state Sen. Bruce Starr, a Hillsboro Republican, came to the town's Civic Center to discuss the issues with about 65 constituents who turned out for the session.

With the Oregon Legislature considering four bills related to guns, that appeared to be the topic most pressing on the minds of many in the audience.

The town hall event started out with ideas for expanding economic development in the area and job creation. There was a lot of discussion about schools and the education budget, and of course how to handle possible changes to the Public Employees Retirement System. The topic of health care came up, and old debates about whether “Obama Care” was helping or hurting when it comes to the cost of health insurance were briefly renewed.

About halfway through the public forum, however, someone asked Starr why he has stated he would not vote for any of four proposed gun-related measures on the legislative docket in Salem.

“I have thousands of constituents who own guns, and I don’t support any of the four bills,” Starr responded, “because if the legislation is enacted it will restrict the ability of law-abiding citizens to own and operate firearms.”

The Oregon Legislature has four gun-related measures currently under consideration:

• Senate Bill 347 would allow school districts to adopt a policy that prohibits guns on campus, even if the weapon holder has a concealed carry permit.

• Senate Bill 699 would prohibit people with carry permits from bringing weapons into a public buildings or grounds without special permission from government officials unless the gun is hidden from view. Law enforcement officers would be exempt.

• Senate Bill 700 would call for a criminal background check for the transfer and sale of firearms between private individuals, with an exception for immediate family members.

• Senate Bill 796 would require concealed handgun license applicants to demonstrate their competence with a firearm in front of an authorized instructor.

Starr said that in his 15 years in the Oregon Legislature, he has never heard as much from his constituents as he has about SB 700.

“The issue there is, gun owners don’t trust the government to handle the information they submit responsibly,” Starr explained, “and I, to a certain extent, have to agree with that.”

Starr added that none of the proposed gun-related bills now under consideration in Salem would keep criminals from getting guns, but one woman in attendance directly challenged Starr on that point.

“Criminals won’t honor laws, so if we follow that same logic, why should we have laws against murder and rape?” she wanted to know.

Starr dismissed her argument, pointing out that the right of American citizens to “keep and bear arms” is protected by the United States Constitution.

After Starr gave his views, Gallegos offered his perspective on the gun issue.

“I’m a veteran and a gun owner and I like to shoot guns,” Gallegos said. “But I can’t see what anybody needs an assault rifle for.”

“We don’t trust the government,” responded a man in the crowd, and that statement drew the ire of Gallegos.

“We the people are the government,” Gallegos said. “I don’t understand why there is this suspicion. In my opinion, we don’t need these types of weapons.”

Starr said the Republican caucus in Salem is united against the four gun bills, which were sponsored by Democratic members of the Legislature.

The current composition of the Oregon Senate is 16 Democrats and 14 Republicans. One Democrat — state Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose — has said she will vote against the measures. That means that without at least one Republican voting to support the proposed legislation, the bills cannot move forward.

“They don’t have the votes,” Starr declared.

Sensing that the arguments in support or opposition of new gun laws were not going to change anyone’s mind, one person put the debate into perspective and urged the crowd to move to other issues.

“I’d love to be able to continue the gun control debate,” the man said, “but everyone here has their own opinion. It’s like the abortion debate. My view is, it’ll all come out in the next election.”

On May 6, Senate President Peter Courtney announced that all four gun-related bills have been tabled. Courtney said he decided to remove the bills from consideration due to a lack of bipartisan support.

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