SALEM — In two-minute turns on Friday, more than two dozen citizens staked out their views on legislation that would require Oregonians to keep their firearms under lock or face penalties. They appeared before the House Judiciary Committee over three hours, speaking on House Bill 4005.
Before that testimony, the bill's sponsors Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn, and Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, took a moment to explain their purpose.
"Unsecured firearm storage is an important contributor to access and is especially dangerous to children," Sollman told the committee. "We need protections for youth and for those in mental crisis, and we need to keep firearms out of the hands of unauthorized users."
The legislation would require gun owners to secure their firearms with a trigger or cable lock, in a locked container such a safe or gun room. Violators could be fined up to $500. If a minor gets their hands on a gun that was found to be unsecured, the owner could be fined up to $2,000, and a gun owner could be held liable for an unsecured firearm that causes injury or property damage with some exceptions.
Under the legislation, gun owners would be required to report to police within 72 hours of finding their firearm has been lost or stolen punishable. The Oregon Health Authority would establish regulations for trigger locks and storage.
Testimony was evenly split between those for and against the bill, including impassioned presentations of their experience with gun violence, home invasion, assault, losing a loved one and fear for personal safety.
Among the first witnesses was Paul Kemp, whose brother-in-law Steve Forsyth was one of the three who lost their lives in the Clackamas Town Center shooting in 2012. The shooter in that event stole the firearm he used from an acquaintance. The bill is named for the victims. Kemp recounted notifying his nephew that his father had died in the incident and how he hoped no one else has to shoulder that duty.
"The circumstances that allowed the Clackamas Town Center mall shooting years ago will finally be addressed by the 2020 Legislature with passage of HB 4005," Kemp said. "My sister and I learned (after the event) the owner of those guns had no obligation under Oregon law to report them as stolen. In fact, the legal gun owner did not call the police until the mall shooting was national news that afternoon."
Kemp and others cited numbers showing suicides involving firearms in the U.S. have increased 19% over the past decade, that in Oregon, 82% of gun deaths are suicides, and less than 5% of suicide attempts without a gun result in death.
According to Ben Hoffman, a pediatrician and expert on child injury at the Oregon Health and Science University, Oregon's rate of suicide for children and teens is 34% higher than the rest of the country, and in the last five years, the rate has increased 50%.
Klamath County resident Scott DeCarlo said he's saddened by statistics but that doesn't give the Legislature the right to infringe on his Second Amendment right.
"I'm definitely sorry that some children have taken their lives. That's awful, but statistically, the number is quite small," DeCarlo said.
"We should not be having this hearing," he continued. "We have no right to do this. It's ludicrous to think that when I fall asleep, technically, that gun is no longer under my control, so I have to lock it. So, somebody kicks in my door in the middle of the night, I'm supposed to lock my firearm up when I'm supposed to be safe in my home?"
Rabbi Michael Cahana, representing the interfaith nonprofit Lift Every Voice Oregon, pointed out there are no more safe spaces with the proliferation of firearms in America today.
"There are no safe spaces in malls, in schools, as we've heard, and religious institutions as well, are under threat," Cahana said. "The safe storage of owned weapons is something we should all be able to unite behind. We stand strongly behind this bill and urge it's moving forward."
The testimony went on, back and forth, for the better part of the afternoon Friday. As contentious as the bill is, both sides contained their emotions to the tables sitting before the committee's dais, except for a witness identified as Manuel Martinez, whose testimony against the bill included mentions of "Marxism," "Communism," "impeachment" and "Trump" and continued in spurting shouts as he exited.
A work session is scheduled for the bill on Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Capitol. It's expected that amendments to the bill, including clarifications on situations in which the owner of a firearm may or may not be held liable, will subject to public testimony.