Gun control bill OK'd by Oregon; 1st since Florida shooting

2018-02-23 09:33
Nikolas Cruz, the accused in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, appeared in court for a status hearing. (Mike Stocker, South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

Nikolas Cruz, the accused in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, appeared in court for a status hearing. (Mike Stocker, South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

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Salem — Fuelled by anguished voices in the aftermath of the Florida high school shooting, Oregon's Legislature on Thursday banned people convicted of stalking and domestic violence or under restraining orders from buying or owning firearms and ammunition.

The passage of the bill by the state Senate on a 16-13 vote appears to mark the first time a state legislature has passed a gun-control measure since the February 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, said Anne S Teigen, a criminal justice expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.

The measure was introduced before the Florida slayings.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown had lobbied for the bill, telling a Senate committee this week to hear the anguished voices rising in the aftermath of the Florida attack in which 17 people were killed.

The Democratic governor said she intends to sign into law the measure that the House earlier approved to protect victims of domestic violence.

Passage of the bill comes as the nation heatedly debates gun control in the wake of the Florida shooting.

A group led by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a 2011 shooting that left her with a brain injury, applauded the Legislature's passing of the so-called boyfriend loophole bill.

"Oregon is taking the lead to protect communities from gun violence," said Robin Lloyd, government affairs director for Giffords' nonprofit organisation that seeks to save lives from gun violence.

Brown praised lawmakers after the bill passed both chambers, observing that "it took the voices and outrage of youth devastated by gun violence to hold decision makers' feet to the fire."

Loophole closed

The House had approved the bill in a 37-23 vote on February 15, with two Republicans including gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler joining Democrats in voting "aye".

"I think survivors of domestic violence shouldn't have to live in fear that their abusers can obtain a firearm," Buehler had said.

Before Thursday's vote, Senator Floyd Prozanski, a Democrat from the university town of Eugene, stood and urged his colleagues to support the bill. His voice cracking, he recalled that his sister was shot dead by her boyfriend in 1973 after she said she was leaving him.

He cited statistics saying a woman is five times more likely to die if a gun is present in a domestic violence situation and 54% of mass shootings involve domestic violence.

Opponents said the law would violate Second Amendment protections on the right to bear arms. Unlawful possession of guns and ammunition is punishable by a maximum of 364 days' imprisonment, a $6 250 fine, or both.

One Democrat split from the rest of her caucus and joined the Republican senators in voting against the measure. Republicans said the bill could have been better crafted and that it was too complicated an issue to consider in the short 2018 legislative session.

The bill expands those who could be banned from owning guns and ammunition after a conviction, adding stalking as a qualifying crime, and adding those who are under a restraining order.

Supporters said the bill closed a loophole in a 2015 law that excluded some abusers, such as boyfriends who abuse partners they don't live with.

An amendment proposed by Senator Herman Baertschiger, a Republican from Grants Pass, to appropriate $20m to the state police for implementing and enforcing firearms laws was voted down on Thursday by the Senate.

"Senate Democrats rejected additional funding to the state police," said Senator Republican Leader Jackie Winters. "With additional funding, the state police would be freed up to enforce drug laws, gun laws, and increase public safety."

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