A year after mall shooting, Oregon hasn’t enacted any gun reform laws

A year after mall shooting, Oregon hasn’t enacted any gun reform laws »Play Video

HAPPY VALLEY, Ore. -- One year after a gunman walked into Clackamas Town Center mall and opened fire with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, killing two people and seriously injuring a third before turning the weapon on himself, Oregon has not enacted any new laws regulating firearms.

The gunman, Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, opened fire in the food court with a stolen AR-15 semiautomatic rifle - clad in tactical clothing and a hockey mask - killing Cynthia Yuille, 54, and Steve Forsyth, 45, and seriously injuring 15-year-old Kristina Shevchenko. Twenty-two minutes later, he turned the gun on himself. His motive is not known.

The mall shooting - combined with the massacre of 20 elementary school children in Newtown, Conn. less than a week later - almost immediately fueled the national debate on guns. In the spring, the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee passed four bills that would have expanded background checks and added new restrictions on carrying firearms.

Specifically, the proposed legislation would’ve expanded background checks to cover private gun sales and transfers, exempting exchanges between certain family members, including domestic partners. Right now, Oregon requires background checks for sales by federally licensed firearms dealers or gun shows with more than 25 weapons. Background checks are not required for private sales, although sellers can call the Oregon State Police and request a background check.

The legislation would have also prohibited licensed gun owners from openly carrying firearms in public buildings, allowed school districts to ban firearms on school grounds, and required concealed-weapons permit applicants to take a course taught by a live instructor.

A provision requiring applicants for concealed-weapons permits to pass a firing range test was dropped.

Amid opposition from gun-rights groups, key lawmakers had earlier decided to abandon efforts to pass a ban on military-style rifles and on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Democratic Sens. Floyd Prozanski of Eugene, Jackie Dingfelder of Portland and Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay supported the bills advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republican Sens. Betsy Close of Albany and Jeff Kruse of Roseburg opposed them.

By May, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney pulled the package of gun bills from the Senate floor after it was clear that Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose would not join her 15 Democratic colleagues in voting for them. Johnson's opposition left the bills one vote short of passage as the 14 Republicans were united in opposing the measures.

Pro-gun advocates argued that new laws would both infringe upon Second Amendment rights and provide little protection against unhinged individuals. Also, Oregon Firearms Federation executive director, Kevin Starrett, said pro-gun supporters played a key role in stalling the bills.

"When you look at how things ended at this last session, everybody recognized that it was the input from gun owners in the state that killed all those bills," he said. "It was the fact that legislators heard loud and clear that people didn't want their rights tampered with."

When it comes to gun laws, Oregon is an outlier when compared to other states. According to a New York Times story published Wednesday, almost every state across the country has enacted at least one new gun law in the year since the shootings. Nearly two-thirds of the new laws ease restrictions and expand the rights of gun owners, according to the article. Most of those bills were approved in states controlled by Republicans.

"Those who support stricter regulations won some victories - mostly in states where the legislature and governorship are controlled by Democrats - to increase restrictions on gun use and ownership,” according to the New York Times.

According to the same story, 1,500 state gun bills were introduced since the Newtown massacre; 178 passed at least one chamber of a state legislature; and 109 have become law.

This week, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign, a national gun safety group, called out Oregon for what it called "its lack of effective gun laws." The Law Center ranked each state based on a review of state laws in 30 different firearms-related policy areas. Oregon ranked 18th out of 50 and so it ranked Oregon with a D+.

The Law Center noted the three gun control provisions Oregon does have and eight others that are not law in the state, including waiting periods and limits on the number of firearms that can be purchased at one time. By the way, several states received F’s, with only a handful of A’s.

But one gun control advocacy group, Ceasefire Oregon, expects the state to soon join the handful of other states that have strengthened their laws.

Penny Okamoto, Ceasefire Oregon's executive director, told the On Your Side Investigators that she believes a bill mandating universal background checks will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session in February.

Another Ceasefire Oregon spokesman, Michael DeLong, told KATU that the measures went farther than any others had gone before. He felt optimistic that lawmakers will pass gun reform legislation the next time around.

"We are going to keep organizing, we are determined to keep doing this, we have a high hope that the Oregon Legislature in 2014 will stand up and pass universal background checks," DeLong said.

Meanwhile, many guns rights activists like Starrett aren't convinced any bills will pass in Oregon, whether it's to strengthen gun control, streamline current gun laws, or ease restrictions.

"It's going to be very difficult to pass pro-gun legislation as long as we have the leadership that we have in the heads of committees because they're not even interested in looking at the technical problems that are wrong with Oregon law, so I think making something happen that's positive is a pretty steep climb."

But some lawmakers are continuing to talk about the issue behind the scenes, and it appears some are amenable to a compromise.

Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, said Wednesday she would consider any gun bill on a case-by-case basis as long as it would not strip gun owners of their rights.

Remembering the Clackamas Town Center shooting