SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would mandate safe storage of guns and ban them from the state Capitol. Republican lawmakers strenuously objected, saying they and others will be deprived of the ability to defend themselves.
The bill, named for Cindy Yuille and Steve Forsyth who were slain in a shooting at a Portland-area shopping mall in 2012, passed the House last week and goes to Gov. Kate Brown for signing. It aims to prevent accidental shootings by children, suicides and mass shootings.
It requires that firearms be secured with a trigger or cable lock, in a locked container or gun room. Opponents said a delay in accessing a firearm for self-defense could cost lives.
“When you live out in the country and you dial 911, a police officer isn’t there in a few minutes," said Sen. Fred Girod, the Senate Republican leader. “You have to take care of yourself, and this bill prevents that in many ways.”
The bill also bans guns from the Oregon State Capitol. Currently, concealed handgun licensees can bring firearms into the Capitol. On Dec. 21, armed protesters angry that the Capitol was closed to the public due to COVID-19 tried to storm the building.
Sen. Lynn Findley, a Republican, didn't refer to that attack when he spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday. Instead, he said he needs a gun to defend himself from people outside the building.
“When I come into this Capitol, I bring a gun because if I happen to walk out the door — have you seen all the homeless people and the other people walking around here in the evening? — I do not feel overly safe outside of this building at night,” Findley said.
Democratic Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a gun owner who was one of the bill's sponsors, said that while citizens have the right to defend themselves, it can be regulated in certain ways.
“And that’s not out of line and it’s not out of proportion to what other states have done around this country as to having certain regulations on how the Second Amendment is interpreted and utilized within their states,” Prozanski said.
Brown’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Merah, said the governor would review the bill when it gets to her desk.
"Gov. Brown believes that every American has the right to be free from gun violence, and she has continually spoken out about the need to pass sensible gun legislation,” Merah said in an email.
The debate over guns is being resurrected nationwide, as the number of mass shootings climbs again as the nation eases coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
In Colorado, a gun storage bill was signed into law on April by Gov. Jared Polis, who said: “It’s a sensible measure to help avoid immeasurable heartbreak.”
Colorado’s law creates the offense of unlawful storage of a firearm if a person stores a gun knowing that a juvenile could access it without permission or if a resident of the premises is ineligible to possess a firearm.
Similar bills this session have failed in Illinois, Kentucky, Montana, New Mexico and Virginia, said Allison Anderman, senior counsel at Gifford gun safety advocacy group.
States that have passed laws requiring some level of firearms safe storage in past years include California, Connecticut and New York, Anderman said. Massachusetts is the only state that requires that all unattended firearms be stored with locking devices in place, according to Giffords.
A lack of a safe storage law in Oregon contributed to more than 22,000 firearms being lost or stolen in Oregon over the past 10 years, the bill's sponsors said.
Among those who testified in favor of the measure was Forsyth’s brother-in-law, Paul Kemp. Forsyth was killed with a stolen AR-15 rifle.
“I will never forget the screams I heard when we had to tell my teenage nephew that his father had been killed at the mall,” Kemp said.
Rep. Dacia Grayber, a firefighter and paramedic, was almost in tears as she spoke in support of the bill when it came before the House last week. She described coming on the scene of shootings. Her first was the fatal accidental shooting of a child by a friend. They had found a gun under a bed while playing.
“We could not save him, and he died while his father howled the most unimaginable sounds in the next room,” Grayber said. “This scene plays out in our state and our country time and time again."
The safe storage component of the Oregon bill would have been among the toughest in the U.S. because it would have imposed strict liability on people who violate the statute and whose guns are used to injure or kill another person. After being amended, the bill now imposes a negligence standard.
Rep. Rachel Prusak, a driving force behind the bill, said she believes it remains strong because now guardians must be certain their children can be trusted to be safe with a firearm, or they will be liable for damages.
“My goal has always been to save lives by keeping firearms out of the hands of unintended users, especially children,” Prusak said in an email.