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Gov. Brown Announces Plan To Curb Gun Violence

<p>Oregon Gov.&nbsp;Kate Brown announced a plan to address gun violence in the state, Friday, July 15, 2016.</p>

Conrad Wilson


Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced a plan to address gun violence in the state, Friday, July 15, 2016.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced an executive order Friday, ordering Oregon State Police to maintain a database of firearms transactions for five years after the sale. She also ordered state police to notify local law enforcement agencies if a person who is prohibited from buying a gun tries to do so.

“Gun violence is terrorizing America, tearing apart the very fabric of our communities and our families,” Brown said.

The governor, who was appointed in 2015 and is running for election in November, was flanked by fellow government officials, religious leaders and family members of victims who died from gun violence at an announcement outside the Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

Some Republican lawmakers agreed with the need to reduce gun violence, but also said any actions by the state would need to protect Oregonians' Second Amendment rights to bear arms.

Brown's Republican opponent for November, Salem oncologist Bud Pierce, said most of the gun deaths in the state are suicides and he thinks more should be done to address mental health:

"If you really want to focus on saving lives, that's where the effort should go. When you go into gun law, which comes up against people's strong beliefs in the Second Amendment, I think you have a lot of fury, a lot of heat and you end up writing a law and the same number of people die."

Brown also ordered the Oregon Health Authority to issue gun death reports annually and make policy recommendations. She asked the Oregon Health Association to work with groups and agencies that study gun deaths.

“We need more information and data,” Brown said.

In 2013, President Obama directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to resume studying the causes of gun violence, but his administration’s attempts to get dedicated funding have been blocked by Congress.

In Portland, there was a heightened police presence at Friday’s announcement. Roads and a nearby grassy field were roped off by red police tape, presumably to keep protesters away.

Law enforcement officers said they were being cautious because of the recent shootings in Dallas, Minneapolis and Baton Rouge as well as a “National Day of Rage” that some groups said would take place Friday.

Brown also said she was developing legislation for the 2017 legislative session to reduce gun violence in the state.

“As your governor, I call on each of us, as Oregonians and as Americans, to end gun violence now,” she said.

Brown said the legislation will close what’s known as the “Charleston Loophole.”

Under current law, Brown said, Oregon State Police have three days to complete a background check for gun purchases. If they don’t get it finished in time, police must allow the gun purchase to go through.

“By closing the Charleston Loophole, we make sure individuals who should not own a gun are not able to obtain one simply because authorities were unable to complete the background check within the current timelines,” Brown said.

Brown also said she would propose legislation to close what’s known as the “boyfriend loophole,” expanding the types of relationships that qualify as domestic violence “so people convicted of certain crimes of domestic violence no longer have access to firearms.”

She said the legislation would also outlaw future purchases of large-capacity magazines.

Brown’s executive order directing police to maintain a database of firearms transactions for five years is already allowed under state law, but staffers for the governor said, in practice, OSP only keeps the data for five days.

An OSP spokesman declined to confirm that.

"The Oregon State Police are taking immediate actions to implement changes in policy and make the necessary adjustments to both firearms systems and procedures in the pursuit of making all Oregonians safer," the agency said in a statement.

House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said he welcomes a conversation about how to address violence in Oregon, but it should be done with bipartisan consensus.

"It is absolutely critical that those conversations maintain the appropriate level of respect for Oregonians’ constitutional rights and the thousands upon thousands of gun owners in this state who responsibly exercise their Second Amendment rights," he said in statement. "Sadly, this element of the conversation is all too often an afterthought for politicians in Salem."

Pierce said he's fine with directing state agencies to fulfill their statutory obligations, but cautioned against giving OHA more money to spend on guns. He said rather than closing the "Charleston Loophole" the state should conduct background checks within the three-day window.

"There should actually be a little pressure on the state to actually have a system that works in a timely matter," Pierce said. "Three days in the modern era, three working days ... that seems like a lot of time. I would say that I'd be more interested in beefing up the system so that the vast majority, if not all of the decisions could be made in the time."

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon, who joined Brown in Portland on Friday, said more needs to be done at the federal level to address gun violence.

“It’s great to be in Oregon today, but I must say that I’m very disappointed that Congress adjourned yesterday without meaningful action to protect communities from gun violence,” Bonamici said.

While mentioning a list of mass shootings that included the 49 people who were killed in Orlando in June and the nine killed at Umpqua Community College last October, Bonamici said thoughts, prayers and moments of silence are not enough.

“We must enact national, universal background checks, a system that eliminated loopholes for sales at gun shows and online,” she said. “Oregon has shown leadership here and established a strong background check system, but until we have national background checks people can simply cross state lines.”

Pastor Mark Knuston, with Augustana Lutheran Church, said there’s an effort underway to gather signatures for a ballot measure that would ban “assault weapons” and high capacity magazines in Oregon.

He said since last Sunday night, “hundreds” have already signed up.

“This number will swell because common sense for a measure with the highest moral imperative to remove these weapons of war from our communities will prevail,” Knuston said.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.