WINCHESTER – Background checks conducted when a person buys a gun haven’t worked very well to prevent people who shouldn’t own a weapon from obtaining them, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said Monday.
He told a town hall audience at Umpqua Community College that something else is needed to prevent more shootings like recent ones at the Clackamas Town Center outside Portland and in Newtown, Conn.
“It’s very clear that a significant part of this problem stems from the fact that some of those who have committed these horrendous acts clearly are deeply disturbed,” Wyden said. “We want to make sure that these databases make it possible so the military-style guns don’t get into the hands of disturbed people.”
Wyden, whose Jewish parents fled Nazi Germany, said he has always supported the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. However, all of the amendments carry rights and responsibilities, he told 70 people who attended the town hall meeting at the Lang Center.
“The First Amendment is about free speech. It’s a wonderful amendment,” Wyden said. “However, it doesn’t say you can shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater so that everyone gets trampled and stomped to death because they’re fighting for their First Amendment rights.”
When he was a member of the House of Representatives, Wyden authored a law that mandated a minimum 15-year sentence for repeat offenders who used a gun to commit a crime. He said Monday that wasn’t enough.
State Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, who attended the town hall, later questioned who would decide whether a person should be able to purchase a weapon.
“I don’t know how we would evaluate who was fit and who was not,” Kruse said. “There are also privacy issues that would make that impossible.”
On his Senate website, Wyden reveals his late brother Jeff suffered from serious mental illness. He said his family was constantly aware of his brother’s potential for violence, posing a risk for himself and others. He said people should be encouraged to report incidents in which something seems amiss and a person known to have weapons may need professional help.
“People talk about gun control. Gun this and gun that. There ought to be gun sense. Gun sense that all of us can come together on,” Wyden said. “That’s what I’m going to try and focus on.”
Wyden didn’t offer a specific plan at Monday’s meeting but said he would talk up the idea with other senators.
On other issues, Wyden pledged to keep working to pass a management plan for the 2.2 million acres of Oregon & California Railroad trust lands in Western Oregon to provide a reliable amount of timber, increase jobs and provide revenue to counties. He also pledged to work to promote Southern Oregon wine to foreign markets and seek grants for small wine producers and for wine research.
Last week, Wyden became chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which would be the first stop for any forest legislation. He said he would work to build a bipartisan coalition similar to what was needed to pass the 2000 federal timber safety net legislation that he co-authored with then-Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho and subsequent extensions of the law that brought $2.5 billion to Oregon.
“I think it’s our best bet to try to get resource-dependent communities off this roller coaster,” Wyden said. “We need to come up with something permanent, something that will last.”
During a meeting before the town hall, Wyden praised efforts by officials with the UCC wine institute to increase wine production in Southern Oregon. He said it’s the perfect industry to increase exports to other states and other nations.
“I want to grow things here. I want to make things here. I want to ship things here. I don’t think anything exemplifies that better than the wine industry,” he said.
Wyden’s colleague, Sen. Jeff Merkley, will hold a town hall meeting at 5:30 today in the Skyhawk all-purpose room at Myrtle Creek Elementary School, 651 N.E. Division St. Both senators hold yearly town halls in each of Oregon’s 36 counties.
• You can reach reporter John Sowell at 541-957-4209 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.