Undeterred by winter storm, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley hosted St. Helens' meeting Tuesday night drawing a modest crowd

PHOTO COURTESY OF SARA HOTTMAN - U.S. Jeff Merkley speaks during a town hall event at the St. Helens Senior Center on Tuesday, Feb. 20. The event drew a modest crowd and the senator was able to select audience members at will to ask him questions or make public comments.Not even a winter weather storm advisory and inches of snow could keep U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley from hosting a public town hall in St. Helens Tuesday night.

Merkley, a Democrat, hosted the meeting at the St. Helens Senior Center on Feb. 20, attracting a modest crowd despite cold, snowy weather, which had prompted many public agencies and school districts to shut down activities for the evening.

During the town hall, Merkley took questions from the audience that ranged in topic from gun control and proposals to limit access to certain types of weapons, climate change and the environment, funding for education, and ways to get students and young people interested in civic issues.

Typically during town hall meetings, audience members are selected by drawing ticket numbers in a raffle style. With a smaller group size at Tuesday's event, audience members were asked to simply raise their hands before being called on.

One of the first topics raised by an audience member was gun control, which led to discussions about limiting what types of weapons citizens should have access to in the wake of a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last week that left 17 people


Merkley began his response by pointing to Oregon's laws and regulations on background checks that are required before someone can purchase a gun, but followed his remarks with an informal poll of the crowd asking what types of solutions and reforms the audience members supported, including limits on magazine sizes, bump stocks and access to assault weapons.

"I feel the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms, is very important, but it doesn't need to involve machine guns," Merkley said.

Other questions and comments, including one from St. Helens Mayor Rick Scholl, revolved around climate change, severe forest fires and droughts across the state. Scholl asked the senator about his ideas for timber thinning practices to help prevent severe burns.

Merkley proposed somewhat of a middle-ground approach, explaining that he personally prefers reasonable solutions, and not necessarily solutions that purport one extreme over another.

"It's not reasonable to say we're not going to cut anywhere, and it's not reasonable enough to say were going to go back to 1950 and have no rules," Merkley said.

Tuesday night's visit marked the 333rd town hall the senator has hosted since first being elected to office in 2008.

Merkley was set to host a series of town halls in various counties over the last week, including his visit to Columbia County.

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