EDITORIAL: New York leads the way
Oregon lawmakers should take hard look at gun deal
Published: Midnight, Jan. 16
New York is poised to become the first state to harden its gun laws in the wake of the slaughter of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn. Other states, including Oregon, should follow New York’s lead, putting pressure on the White House and Congress to put in place the tough, common-sense national gun laws needed to help prevent future mass shootings.
On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers agreed on major changes to the state’s gun laws — changes that include an expansion of the state’s existing ban on assault weapons and new measures that attempt to keep guns out of the possession of mentally ill people who make threats. The state Senate, which is dominated by Republicans who traditionally have balked at gun-control legislation, approved the package by a 43-18 vote. The Assembly, where pro gun-control Democrats have a strong majority, passed the legislation late Tuesday.
It’s a remarkable achievement, one that Gov. John Kitzhaber and Oregon lawmakers should replicate with their own package of gun and mental health measures. Cuomo’s post-Newtown exhortation to New York lawmakers should resonate in Salem: “We don’t need another tragedy to point out the problems in the system. Enough people have lost their lives. Let’s act.”
Kitzhaber has said he will support what he considers reasonable changes in Oregon’s gun laws, but adds that he won’t lead the charge. He should reconsider the qualifier. Democrats control both Oregon’s House and Senate, but it will take more than a tacit nod and a signature from the governor to strengthen this state’s gun laws in a rural state whose citizens historically have resisted new restrictions on the possession and use of firearms.
State Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, is leading a push for legislation that would ban or limit assault rifles, limit magazines to no more than 10 rounds, expand background checks to include private person-to-person gun sales, and repeal a state law allowing people with concealed handgun permits to bring guns into schools.
That’s a serious legislative package, although much depends on the details of provisions such as the proposed ban on assault rifles.
Burdick and other gun-control supporters in the Legislature should take a serious look at the assault-rifle ban approved in New York. Actually an expansion of an existing ban, it would broaden the definition of such weapons, banning semiautomatic pistols and rifles with detachable magazines and any military-style features, as well as semiautomatic shotguns with military-style features. New Yorkers who already own assault rifles would be able to keep them but would be required to register them with the state — a key provision that recognizes the reality that many people already own such weapons.
In an interview with The (Portland) Oregonian, Kitzhaber rightly noted that state lawmakers concerned about mass killings should look beyond firearm restrictions and consider mental health reforms. Again, the New York legislation merits consideration in Oregon. A key provision would require mental health professionals to notify local mental health officials when patients appear likely to harm themselves or others. Law enforcement would then be authorized to confiscate firearms owned by a patient deemed dangerous.
The national and state gun lobbies are already gearing up for a fight in Salem that could be similar to the one in Washington, D.C. That means Kitzhaber will have to step in and make room for gun control in an already crowded legislative agenda of education funding, sentencing reform and public employee pensions.
That should be a moral and political no-brainer in a state whose traditional wariness of gun control has been shaken by the shootings at the Clackamas Town Center mall and the Connecticut elementary school.
As New York’s governor noted, “Enough people have lost their lives.”
KITZHABER HAS SAID HE WILL SUPPORT WHAT HE CONSIDERS REASONABLE CHANGES IN OREGON’S GUN LAWS, BUT ADDS THAT HE WON’T LEAD THE CHARGE. HE SHOULD RECONSIDER THE QUALIFIER.