Gun violence prevention is more important than ever in the new year as the pandemic continues to exacerbate gun violence, and after a year of increased gun sales, continued police violence, increased risk of suicide and domestic violence, and an increase in city gun violence. In 2020, Portland gun violence was the highest in 26 years, and gun violence has continued to surge in 2021.
Recently, Mayor Ted Wheeler called on the Portland City Council to allot additional funds for gun violence prevention programs and the Office of Violence Prevention to expand street level outreach, increase violence interrupters in the communities hit hardest by gun violence, and expand hospital-based violence interruption. Violence intervention programs have been proven to reduce gun violence in communities disproportionately impacted.
The Mayor’s announcement also called on the City Council to resurrect a new iteration of the Portland Police Bureau’s Gun Violence Reduction Team to combat gun violence. The program faced criticism in the summer “after years of complaints it targeted Black people with disproportionate arrests and harassment” according to reports from Willamette Week. A 2018 city audit also found that the Gun Violence Reduction Team disproportionately stopped Black people in Portland and failed to record the results of those stops or why they were made. According to Mayor Wheeler, the new program would be different from the previous reduction team because they would share data transparently and have a limited scope of work.
Lawmakers at all levels of government need to prioritize gun violence prevention this year. In addition to funding community-based approaches to gun violence prevention, at the state level legislators can prioritize gun safety legislation on their desks to require secure storage, regulate ghost guns, prohibit open carry in schools and government buildings, and close the deadly “Charleston Loophole.”
What to know about the four gun safety bills moving in Oregon:
- HB 2510, legislation to require secure firearm storage. A 2019 study estimated that if half of households with children switched from leaving their guns unlocked to responsibly storing them all locked, one-third of youth gun suicides and unintentional deaths could be prevented – saving an estimated 251 lives in a single year. The bill was recently heard in the House Health Care Committee and awaits a vote.
- HB 2543, legislation to close the deadly “Charleston Loophole” which allows a gun sale to proceed if the background check takes longer than three business days. With gun sales rising and the Oregon background check system overwhelmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to make sure that people who shouldn’t have firearms aren’t able to bypass the background check system. The bill was recently heard in the House Judiciary Committee and awaits a vote.
- SB 554, legislation to a bill to allow local governments and school districts to prohibit firearms in public buildings. Guns have no place in our schools or in government buildings. Currently, local and school officials in Oregon are forced to allow the carrying of loaded firearms into government buildings and all public Oregon schools including grades K-12 and most areas of college campuses. The bill passed the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee and now awaits a Senate floor vote.
- SB 396, legislation to regulate ghost guns, untraceable, do-it-yourself firearms made from parts available without a background check. When it comes to gun violence, the rise of ghost guns is the fastest-growing gun safety problem we’ve seen in years. The bill will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 25.
What to know about gun violence in Oregon:
- In Oregon, on average, over 500 people are shot and killed and over 400 others are wounded by guns every year.
- An average of over 420 people in Oregon die by gun suicide every year. Gun suicide accounts for over 80 percent of all gun deaths in the state and costs Oregon $2.4 billion each year.
- Homicide levels in major cities in Oregon, including Portland, have risen over the past year, as the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the root causes of gun violence and brought unprecedented challenges to the work of local gun violence intervention programs.
Statistics about gun violence in Oregon are available here, and Everytown’s Gun Law Navigator – which shows how Oregon gun laws compare to those of other states – is available here. If you are interested in speaking with an Oregon Moms Demand Action or Students Demand Action volunteer, please don’t hesitate to reach out.