SALEM — A National Rifle Association representative, relatives of two people killed in a December mall shooting spree and others took part in a passionate gun control debate Friday as Oregon’s Legislature began considering bills that would impose new gun restrictions but wouldn’t go as far as some lawmakers had hoped.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard four hours of public testimony on a package of four bills that would expand background checks and add new restrictions on carrying firearms.
The daughter and husband of a woman shot dead at a suburban Portland shopping mall urged lawmakers to adopt the legislation and asked for additional measures, such as requiring that guns be kept locked up.
“The gun that was used to kill my mother was stolen,” said Jenna Passalacqua, daughter of Cindy Yuille, one of two people fatally shot by Jacob Roberts as he opened fire inside the Clackamas Town Center on Dec. 11. Roberts, who killed himself after the shooting, had stolen the AR-15 from a friend.
“Had that gun been locked up properly, she might still be alive today,” said Passalacqua, one of more than 100 people who showed up at the hearing to testify. After the mall shooting, which occurred just three days before the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Oregon gun control advocates and state lawmakers called for a toughening of gun restrictions.
Amid opposition from gun rights advocates, lawmakers abandoned contentious efforts to pass a ban on military-style rifles and on high-capacity ammo magazines.
The bills lawmakers began considering on Friday would prohibit gun owners from openly carrying weapons in public buildings, require criminal background checks for private gun sales or transfers, and require concealed-handgun applicants to take a safety course and pass a proficiency test.
Another bill would ban guns in primary and secondary schools, but local school districts could opt out of the ban.
Samuel Lee III, a member of the Winston-Dillard School Board and of the Oregon School Boards Association, told lawmakers that school districts, especially in rural communities, need to have local control over gun regulation.
“In our county, firearms are as common as pickup trucks...school safety is and should remain a local issue,” Lee said.
Gun rights advocates told Oregon lawmakers that new restrictions on guns will not prevent tragedies like the mall shooting.
“Those who are bent on committing evil will continue to commit evil regardless of legislation and additional laws,” Daniel Reid, an NRA representative, told lawmakers. “The solution is not to infringe on law-abiding citizens.”
The NRA opposes all four measures before the Oregon Legislature.
Gov. John Kitzhaber, along with Portland’s mayor and police chief, testified in support of legislation that would expand gun sale background checks and impose new restrictions on carrying guns in elementary and secondary schools.
“These two bills represent a reasonable and necessary set of steps that this Legislature can and should take,” Kitzhaber said.
Gun ownership is part of the culture in parts of Oregon, which has expansive rural and forested areas where hunting and target shooting are a way of life. Forty percent or more of Oregon households own guns, and nearly 170,000 people have county-issued licenses to carry concealed handguns, making gun legislation as thorny an issue as in many other parts of the country.
Oregon lawmakers began their work on gun bills the same week Connecticut’s governor signed into law sweeping new gun restrictions that added more than 100 firearms to the state’s assault weapons ban, and made it illegal to sell magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. New York and Colorado, where a gunman opened fire in a movie theater killing 12 people in July 2012, also passed gun control measures in the wake of the Newtown shootings.
Paul Kemp, brother-in-law of Steve Forsyth, a man killed in the mall shootings, told lawmakers they have the ability to prevent future shooting sprees by passing the legislation.
“The worst moment of my life, was having to tell Steve’s son who was 13 that his dad was killed at the mall that day,” Kemp said, speaking in support of the bills. “Nobody wants to go through that.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.