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Ore. Counties' Divisive Gun Measure Unites on Mental Health

A legally questionable measure passed in several Oregon counties attempts to void a state law requiring background checks for private party gun transfers. (tigerlily713/Pixabay)
A legally questionable measure passed in several Oregon counties attempts to void a state law requiring background checks for private party gun transfers. (tigerlily713/Pixabay)
February 13, 2017

LAKEVIEW, Ore. -- A measure challenging gun regulations is popping up around the state. Since 2015, four counties have passed a measure known as the Second Amendment Preservation ordinance, and commissioners in Malheur, Union and Lake counties have heard the same measure in the past few weeks.

The ordinance is a reaction to the Oregon Firearms Safety Act, passed by the state Legislature in 2015, which requires background checks for transfers of firearms between private parties. These county ordinances allow sheriffs to ignore this law - which gun advocates see as unconstitutional.

But Ceasefire Oregon’s executive director Penny Okamoto said there's a fatal flaw in the measure.

"There's an Oregon firearms pre-emption law that states that counties, municipalities, cities actually can't make certain laws regarding certain aspects of firearm sales, ownership, storage,” Okamoto said. "So these ordinances or resolutions really are largely very symbolic."

The legality of this ordinance is still in question.

Rob Taylor of Coos County is one of the chief petitioners for the Second Amendment Preservation ordinance. He said he wants Oregon to have what he called "sanctuary counties" for the Second Amendment.

"The same way Oregon has become a sanctuary state for immigration,” he said.

While Okamoto and Taylor disagree over the measure, they both point to poor mental health services for Oregonians and the importance of addressing those shortfalls to prevent violence. Taylor said Gov. Kate Brown's proposal to shut down a mental health hospital in Junction City could hurt the people it serves.

"It doesn't matter whether they get a gun or a car or a bomb. If they have those thoughts, they're going to act upon it,” he said. "And so the best thing to do is to have places like mental hospitals so we can have people go and get those problems healed or cured."

Okamoto said one of the biggest concerns related to gun violence is suicide, which accounts for most of the violent deaths from guns.

"You can pass all these ordinances you want but that's not really taking a look at the fact that a lot of people in these rural counties are using their guns to kill themselves,” she said. "And that's an issue that really needs to be addressed."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR