Why We Need Gun Control Now, According to a Governor Who Is Making It Happen
On Monday, Oregon Governor Kate Brown will sign into law House Bill 4145, which will prohibit convicted stalkers and domestic abuse offenders from buying a gun in the state. Here, she explains why HB 4145—which, in effect, closes the "boyfriend or "intimate partner loophole" in gun purchasing legislation—is so important.
On the morning of Oct. 1, 2015, just eight months after I became Governor of Oregon, I was getting ready to speak at a women’s leadership lunch in Portland. Hundreds of people were gathering in a ballroom, ready to celebrate women who have dedicated their lives to their communities and their state. That’s when I got a call I will never forget. A young man had entered Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, three hours south of Portland, and started shooting. I eventually learned that nine people had been killed.
Stunned, I knew I must immediately leave for Roseburg and be with the community as it began to process this tragedy. But first, I had to walk through that ballroom, towards the exit, just as guests were taking their seats and stopping to greet me. As they did, I apologized that I had to leave and told them there had been a shooting at the college. Some people gasped and covered their mouths. Others just looked down and shook their heads. But, we were all thinking the same thing, “Not another one. Not here. Not anywhere.”
I spent the next two days in Roseburg with mothers who had lost their sons, fathers who had lost their daughters, and boys and girls who had lost the sibling they looked up to. It was a deeply troubling time and a profound experience. Once my staff and I had set a course for the community to begin recovering from this tragedy, I left for the capitol in Salem. I made a commitment on the drive back that day to do what I can to ensure this would never happen in Oregon again. Fortunately, it hasn’t.
But since that time, a disturbingly large number of mass shootings have devastated communities across the country. And in the days following the Parkland shooting, Oregon law enforcement have responded to three threats against local schools.
It’s clear gun violence is an epidemic that is tearing our communities apart. But, to stop this from happening, it takes more than just one elected official. We have to decide, as a society, to put our differences aside and stop these tragedies from destroying lives and families. Today, I’m hopeful that is what’s happening in Oregon.
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Our state’s path to more sensible gun policy began in 2015, when we made universal background checks mandatory. In 2017, we created a tool that helps families and law enforcement keep guns out of the hands of loved ones in crisis. And this year, just two weeks after the Florida school shooting, Oregon became the first state in the nation to pass gun legislation after the Parkland tragedy, addressing a pervasive and terrifying gun problem: domestic violence.
As the national dialogue focuses on yet another mass shooting, it is also important to know that most deaths caused by a gun go under-reported and all too often occur within the context of domestic violence. In the past two years alone, Oregon has experienced 66 fatalities due to domestic violence, and over half of these victims died from gunshots. Research shows just the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed. In all, about 4.5 million women in the U.S. have been threatened with a gun by an intimate partner.
This year, I’ve made signing into law House Bill 4145—which keeps guns out of convicted stalkers and domestic violence offenders’ hands—a top priority. Passing this legislation should be a no-brainer. But closing the “Boyfriend” or “Intimate Partner Loophole,” in which convicted stalkers and domestic violence offenders have been legally allowed to carry firearms, hasn’t been easy. Even in the immediate wake of the Florida tragedy, as the Oregon Senate was set to cast a vote on this life-saving legislation, the NRA’s dark forces descended on the capitol to try to prevent the vote. Legislators remained resolved, though. As HB 4145 narrowly passed, Oregon took another crucial step towards keeping our communities safer from gun violence.
The reality is, we will never know if a bill like this would have prevented the horrible tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But, we do know that to make truly meaningful progress, we need national action and federal legislation. We certainly need to address mental healthcare more accessibility and ensure law enforcement is following up on credible threats of violence. But let’s also be very clear and recognize that America has a gun problem.
It’s both terrifying and heartbreaking that our students have to practice mass-shooter drills. Parents and educators should not have to worry about preparing our students to survive combat scenarios at our schools. Teachers should be able to teach and not be expected to serve as armed classroom guards.
Confronting this problem demands that we take a pragmatic approach to gun reform. Universal background checks are a good start, and so is a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. These are weapons of war designed to cause mass casualties, not toys. And to say they’re for sport or even self-defense goes beyond what is reasonable.
I believe that the tide is turning on this long-running debate, and I’m so proud of the students across the nation who are holding lawmakers’ feet to the fire. It very well may be their voices that change the narrative and bring common sense gun solutions to Washington D.C. I remain hopeful that Oregon is showing the nation change is possible and that one day we’ll be able to say with confidence, “Not another one. Not here. Not anywhere.”