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Following the evening’s program, Rasmussen visits with attendees of the event including brothers Travis, right, and Tim Bullard of Union. CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer
By Bill Rautenstrauch / The Observer
About 450 people jammed the Blue Mountain Conference Center Tuesday night, listening raptly as a series of speakers decried firearms legislation being proposed in Washington, D.C.
The rally, hosted by Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen, focused on a perceived threat to the people’s right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, particularly proposals to ban or restrict ownership of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
“This is a big deal,” Rasmussen said during his opening remarks. “It’s important to understand we all have constitutional rights.”
Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December, Rasmussen has joined with other county sheriffs from Oregon and around the nation expressing concerns that efforts at gun control may go too far. Rasmussen has said that some of the recent 23 executive orders on gun control signed by President Barack Obama may prove helpful to law enforcement, but has also said he is opposed to banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines. He is circulating a petition calling on elected representatives to not support those proposals.
Following a religious invocation and a singing of the national anthem, Rasmussen introduced many of his deputies who were attending, and also five speakers who all reflected Rasmussen’s viewpoint.
The first was David Westenskow, a teacher at La Grande High School, who said the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution provide a blueprint for a “great experiment” in individual freedom. He said he doesn’t think there is a need for more gun laws.
“The problems of violence we’re facing can’t be solved with knee-jerk legislation,” he said.
Westenskow said he is concerned about safety in schools, but believes that solutions to the problems are to be found at a local level. He said federal laws restricting firearms for law-abiding people aren’t the answer, because criminals will always try and skirt the laws.
“Gun registration would create nothing but enormous lists of honest people,” Westenskow said.
Dr. Shari Carpenter of Eastern Oregon University, kept her remarks brief but also said she values and supports the Second Amendment. Carpenter said the amendment is a vital part of the Constitution because it safeguards other freedoms.
“The Second Amendment is no accident. The founders embraced the principal that without arms, the First Amendment (guaranteeing free speech) would be of no value,” Carpenter said.
Jack Eckrich, a retired Oregon State Police trooper, said he believes a better mental health system, and not gun control, is the answer to the problem of mass killings that have plagued the country.
“Instead of addressing the real problem, we go back to addressing an inanimate object, the gun,” Eckrich said. “I don’t know what we can do about evil, but maybe we can approach our fellow citizens from the side of mental health.”
A standing-room only audience filled the Blue Mountain Conference Center Tuesday night to hear from Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen and other local speakers addressing Second Amendment rights. CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer
Eckrich talked about the December shooting rampage at the Clackamas Town Center where Jacob Tyler killed two people and wounded a third with an assault rifle. Eckrich said Tyler took his own life after a citizen near him drew a pistol. He said if that citizen had not been present, more people might have died.
Eckrich said he is against laws regulating firearms because they infringe on the rights of people who do no wrong.
“In all my years in law enforcement, I never had anything to fear from a law-abiding citizen,” he said.
Local accountant Brent Lewis, who said he has great respect and passion for the Second Amendment, said he feels blessed to live in a country that is a “last bastion of gun freedom on the planet.”
Like all the other speakers, Lewis said gun control laws will do nothing to deter people who are armed and have evil intentions.
“(Lawmakers) really think these people will obey the new laws, when they wouldn’t obey the old. So we get more regulation, bigger government and who gets to pay for that?” Lewis said.
As the meeting neared its close, Capt. Craig Ward of the Union County Sheriff’s Office told the crowd that he believes in the rule of law and is compelled to uphold it, including the Second Amendment.
“Before I swore to uphold the law, I swore to uphold the Constitution,” Ward said.
Ward said the sheriff’s office is aware that gun control is a controversial issue, and will listen to and respect all viewpoints.
“I want to make you aware that we are open to hearing from people on both sides,” Ward said. “Having said that, I, for one, stand for the Constitution.”