Stricter gun laws are being discussed by Oregon lawmakers during this year’s session and are unsurprisingly leading to deep divides.
Senate Bill 554, which passed through the Senate in late March, would ban firearms in the Capitol and other state buildings, as well as allowing local governments, school districts and universities to set their own “gun-free zones.”
Public buildings in Oregon already prohibit guns, but state law has always made an exception for people who hold a concealed handgun license. The new bill, if passed, would eliminate that exception and increase the cost of a new license from $50 to $100. The law does, however, say parking areas and parking garages can’t be included in new prohibited areas.
Oregon law currently slaps anyone found with a gun in a prohibited public space with a Class C felony, and if the new law passes, people with CHLs could face the same penalty if they knowingly bring a gun into the Capitol or other protected space.
Advocates of the bill say it would make public buildings safer and that it makes sense for state buildings to mirror gun bans that already exist in federal buildings and courthouses. They argue that other local public buildings should be afforded the same opportunity to enact “gun-free zones.”
Opponents of the bill argue CHL holders are the first line of defense against mass shootings and that needlessly infringing the rights of law-abiding citizens is just wrong — and possibly a violation of the Second Amendment.
Admittedly, something needs to be done about our country’s out-of-control gun violence. With 3.96 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019, the U.S. has the 32nd-highest rate of deaths from gun violence in the world, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations. Far behind world leaders like El Salvador at 36.78 per 100,000, Venezuela at 33.27 and Guatemala at 29.06, but embarrassingly ahead of countries like Japan, South Korea and China at 0.02, and the United Kingdom at 0.04.
The problem with SB 554 is that it seeks to fix a problem that we aren’t certain exists: Does outlawing guns in public buildings make us safer? No one actually knows, and in the process of trying to win an argument, Oregon’s leaders — on both sides of the aisle — have resorted to citing some pretty misleading or incomplete research.
Because, unfortunately, there isn’t any widely accepted research that examines the history of gun violence in our country. Without that, we’re hopeless to make any changes to our laws that could reasonably prevent gun violence without infringing on our rights.
Sadly, for the last 25 years, federal research has lacked any funding due to the Dickey Amendment, which was passed in 1996 by Congress and restricted funding for research — especially by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — into gun violence and its effects on public health.
Worse still is that the namesake of the bill, former Arkansas Rep. Jay Dickey, appeared on NPR eight days after the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College to say he regretted the law bearing his own name.
He said the bill was intended to restrict funds being used for gun control advocacy, not research.
Research that could help find solutions that wouldn’t interfere with anyone’s right to own a gun, but would regulate ownership in such a way that fewer people are killed from guns, he said.
“I can’t tell you what (the solution) might be, but I know this,” he told NPR. “All this time that we have had, we would’ve found a solution, in my opinion. ... And I think it’s a shame that we haven’t.”
Thankfully, that school of thought appears to be changing ever so slightly. The New York Times reported earlier this month that the Texas Children’s Hospital received a $684,000 federal grant to identify and address gun violence “hot spots” in a similar way epidemiologists track and contain viruses.
Research like this needs our full support because without it, we’re just playing pin the tail on the donkey.
Oregon’s Republicans seem to want this kind of research, too. In an analysis of SB 554, Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, and Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, requested all “scientific and evidence-based data regarding effectiveness of gun-free zones in the United States in deterring violent crimes.”
And if well-funded, peer-reviewed research doesn’t exist — and it likely doesn’t — we should all support an effort to create it.
“It’s not either, ‘Keep your guns or prevent gun violence,” Dr. Mark Rosenberg told The New York Times. Rosenberg helped establish the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control before leaving in the 1990s due to pressure from those who opposed the center’s gun research. “There’s a strategy that science can help us define where you can do both — you can protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and at the very same time reduce the toll of gun violence.”
Until then, we should approach passing added gun legislation with caution.