Backers drop gun storage initiative

These locks given out by Hermiston Police Department enable safe storage of guns with children in the home.

During the last legislative session, a bill vying for gun storage requirements was scrapped after Senate Republicans walked out. But storage laws might live again as a ballot measure, and some officials in Eastern Oregon are less than enthused.

“Personally, I think every home should secure their weapons but I would not be in support of mandating that,” said Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner.

In 2019, the Cindy Yuille and Steve Forsyth Act proposed that gun owners be required to secure firearms with a trigger or cable lock when not in use or face a $500 fine. It also looked to require gun owners to report their firearms lost or missing within 24 hours of discovery, or else face a penalty of $1,000. The bill was created as a response to two people who lost their lives — Yuille and Forsyth — during the Clackamas Town Center shooting in 2012.

It argued that 22,000 Oregon firearms had been stolen in the past decade and that two-thirds of all school shootings since the 1970s involved weapons taken from home or a nearby neighbor. It also claimed that evidence shows safer gun storage may prevent child suicide and injury.

Paul Kemp, the brother-in-law of Forsyth, helped turn in 2,000 voter signatures to Oregon’s election office last week in an effort to revive the conversation on gun storage.

The group collecting signatures, State of Safety Action, would still need over 100,000 more to get the measure — which people are also referring to as the Cindy Yuille and Steve Forsyth Act — a spot on the 2020 ballot.

Smith said he hadn’t seen any statistics about school shootings or suicides that would support gun storage restrictions, but that guns being lost and stolen is a reality. He said he plans to draw up legislation in the future advocating for gun safety education in schools.

That’s something that would interest Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts, though he notes many people feel that gun education doesn’t belong in public settings.

“The reality is that we encounter unsecured firearms at homes frequently,” Roberts said.

He said that firearms were more frequently stolen from cars than from homes, a frustrating phenomenon he’s seen more than once.

But he also feels there are some complications involved with enforcing gun storage restrictions, particularly when it comes to reporting firearms missing within 24 hours of discovery.

“There are going to be too many people who are going to resist because the government is telling them what to do,” he said. “People aren’t going to want to report their firearms missing if they’re worried about being charged for not storing them properly.”

Both Roberts and Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston expressed concerns about being able to enforce storage laws.

“Bills like this don’t have much teeth to them,” Edmiston said.

He said he sympathized with the spirit of a legislation made in honor of shooting victims, but that in order for officers to know whether a gun is being safely stored in someone’s home, they’d need a search warrant.

Umatilla County Commissioner John Shafer said that when his children were young, he chose to lock his guns. But now the kids are older, he doesn’t want anyone telling him how to store his guns.

“I guess my first thought really is that any time you start restricting a citizen’s rights, it’s a slippery slope,” he said.

Kimberly Lindsay, executive director of Community Counseling Solutions — which oversees mental health care across Eastern Oregon — said she wasn’t well versed on solutions to gun violence.

But she did feel certain about something.

“Safe storage is a good idea. I’m not sure how people could argue about that. You should be thoughtful about the placement of firearms,” she said. “Certainly, when you have kids around who may have no intention of harming themselves and inadvertently pick up a gun that might be loaded.”

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