By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND – With emotions still raw from the Clackamas Town Center shooting and the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, both sides of the gun debate in Oregon are readying for a showdown.
“I have never, in the entire time I have worked in this business, seen what I’m seeing now,” said Kevin Starrett, who founded the Oregon Firearms Federation in 1998. “It is literally a madhouse. It’s not like we are gearing up. It’s just everybody is working all the time and we can’t keep up.”
Starrett predicted the 2013 session, which begins Feb. 4, is “going to be a very, very ugly hideous fight.”
On the upside: his group has seen an increase in membership since the shootings, and Starrett said he’s getting back-to-back calls from gun owners worried about new legislation limiting their right to bear arms.
“If you go to any place that sells guns, you would think they were robbed,” he said.
The Oregonian reported last week that applications for concealed handgun licenses were up considerably in the Portland metro area since the shootings (300 percent in Washington County). Starrett said at his gun club he’s doubled the number of gun classes and tripled the size of participants. “It’s just madness,” he said.
Likewise, Ceasefire Oregon, a group that aims to reduce gun violence through regulation, is pretty busy, too.
“Never ever have I ever seen anything like this,” said Penny Okamoto, the group’s executive director. Okamoto said she’s heard from a lot of angry people who want increased rules for gun owners, including background checks and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazine that hold 10 or more rounds or bullets.
“I have never heard from so many people ever,” she said. “They’re really outraged. They want tighter gun laws. They want gun laws that make it less easy for felons and the mentally ill to access guns.”
Okamoto aso said her group is pushing for a prohibition on concealed-carry handguns in public schools, grades K-12.
State Rep. Dennis Richardson made national headlines when he recommended arming teachers and mall employees, and training concealed-carry permit holders to provide volunteer security on school campuses.
“We do not need to change current Oregon law,” he said. Oregon law allows concealed carry permit holders to have their guns in most places, including schools. Despite the law, many districts have banned weapons.
State Rep. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, plans to introduce legislation that would go another step and allow public colleges and universities to ban all weapons from their campuses, including guns owned by Concealed Weapons Permit holders. But, as Dembrow mentions in his recent newsletter to constituents, the state court of appeals ruled in 2011 that public institutions could not prohibit concealed weapons permit holders from bringing guns onto campus.
“I believe that it’s time to give them that explicit authority: institutions, whether public or private, should be able to make the decision that they feel is right for their campus and their students,” he said.
State Rep. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, plans to introduce legislation banning guns that accept 10 rounds or more, with exceptions.
And where Gov. John Kitzhaber is concerned, “nothing is off the table,” spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki said.
“The governor sees no reason for civilians to have assault weapons — period,” she said. ”He’s directed staff to quickly research a range of options for him to consider on firearms regulation, mental health and school safety measures that could be the basis for a comprehensive approach to the problem.”