By Michelle Frost

The League of Women Voters of Portland provided a format for discussion of Gun Safety with a panel of experts on Tuesday, March 14 in the Multnomah County Board Room.

LWVPDX President, Frances Dyke, welcomed the audience, introduced the evening’s program, and turned it over to Sheriff Mike Reese. Reese, Multnomah County Sheriff since last November, reported that more than 1,700 gun-related crimes took place in the county in the past 18 months, including robbery, assault, and murder. Working in law enforcement for 26 years, Reese emphasized a need for ‘common sense solutions.’

Legislation keeps firearms out of the hands of criminals. Penny Okamoto, Executive Director, Ceasefire Oregon, organized the speakers for this event to discuss the various aspects of gun safety. Presenters were Lisa Millet, Director, Injury and Violence Prevention, Oregon Public Health Division; Jim Oleske, Associate Professor of Law, Lewis & Clark Law School; Paul Kemp, Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership; and Jenn Lynch, Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety.

Marge Easley, LWV Clackamas County, was the Moderator for this event which was recorded for rebroadcast and online streaming at lwvpdx.org.

Opening the discussion, Lisa Millet reported that 5 of 6 acts of gun violence are suicide, “happening most often with men in their later ages, bi-racial, remote areas, in isolation and smaller counties.” She explained the Oregon Violent Death Recording System, implemented in 2003, a “state health improvement plan” involving the input of medical examiners and law enforcement utilizing information from hospitals, emergency room visits, death records, and behavioral risk surveys to monitor the occurrence of violent death.

Millet works with the State Public Health Division to reduce suicide and reduce drug and alcohol abuse.

Jim Oleske once served as Special Assistant to President Obama and Chief of Staff of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. Oleske discussed the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Oleske explained the two parts of the second amendment, the prefatory clause and the operative clause, which is where interpretation of this amendment becomes contentious in litigation. His research focuses on the constitutional issues affecting gun safety.

Representing Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership, Paul Kemp emphasized three areas of importance to their mission: Concealed Carry Reciprocity; Child Access Prevention; and Safe Storage of Firearms.

“Oregon has a low threshold (for buying firearms),” Kemp stated, “It’s a matter of filling out the paperwork and paying $50 to get a license good for four years.”

When purchasing a gun is easy, and the owner chooses not to lock it away, anyone can take that gun and use it without the owner’s knowledge.

“Every new gun comes with a gun lock,” Kemp explains, “It’s a conscious decision not to use one.”

He further explained that his brother-in-law was a victim in the Clackamas Town Center shooting on December 11, 2012, shot and killed by an assault rifle that had been stolen from an unlocked cabinet. “We are trying to change the cultural effects.”

Kemp encouraged anyone with questions to contact Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership, P.O. Box 2394, Lake Grove, OR 97035.

The final speaker, Jenn Lynch, representing Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety, explained the Charleston Loophole, named for the shooter who bought a gun without the completed background check, a loophole that occurs when the state police run a check that is not completed within three days, uncommon but possible, and the seller can legally transfer the gun to a buyer who has not been conclusively vetted.

“We are working for new legislation in Oregon and nationwide,” Lynch reported, citing the example of Child Access Prevention (CAP). “Oregon has no current CAP laws that would hold the gun owner responsible and would make it illegal to have a gun in the home unlocked.”

According to Lynch, two million children, nationally, under the age of 18 years old, live in a home with a gun, “and half of unintentional violence deaths are caused by kids with guns,” Lynch exclaimed.

The panelists detailed some positive tools recommended for the issue of gun safety, including threat assessment for gun owners at risk of suicide, and the Gunshop Project which is encouraging risk assessments and locking up guns. The alliance of various gun safety groups and organizations to build a strong coalition of advocates are working together to improve the culture of gun ownership and gun safety not just in Oregon but nationally.

For more information about replays of this program, visit metroeast.org or YouTube:League of Women Voters of Portland. For more information about this event see lwvpdx.org.