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Walden Acknowledges Wrongly Describing Gun Bill In Media Interview

<p>Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., talks to a town hall audience of about 400 in Bend on Jan. 19, 2019.</p>

Emily Cureton

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., talks to a town hall audience of about 400 in Bend on Jan. 19, 2019.

Oregon Rep. Greg Walden acknowledged Wednesday that he inaccurately described a House-passed bill he opposed that calls for expanded criminal background checks on gun purchases.

In an interview this week on KEX Radio in Portland, Walden said he voted against the measure because it would make it illegal for someone to swap shotguns with a companion while hunting if they didn’t first go through a background check.

However, the bill explicitly exempts the temporary transfers of firearms for hunting, fishing and trapping purposes.

Walden spokeswoman Molly Jenkins said in an email that the Republican congressman “acknowledges that he misspoke on KEX. What he was intending to reference was if they were out shooting around their ranch.”

Jenkins added that Walden was also concerned that, under the bill, ranchers could face penalties if they loaned an employee a gun to protect livestock from predators.

The eastern Oregon legislator has walked a careful line on gun issues. Walden said he’s willing to tighten some gun laws. But he has also maintained an “A” grade from the National Rifle Association, which has taken a hard line against attempts to tighten restrictions on guns. The group strenuously lobbied against the background checks bill that passed the House.

Following the mass shootings earlier this month in El Paso and Dayton, Walden declined several requests by OPB to discuss gun issues. He did release a statement last week that defended his overall approach, but he did not address gun legislation now under discussion by President Donald Trump and congressional leaders.

In an interview Tuesday with KEX Radio talk show host Mark Mason, Walden said he supported efforts to “clean up the background check system” and ensure that “we can keep the guns out of the hands of the criminal elements.”

But he defended his Feb. 27 vote in the House against a measure that would expand background checks to cover private transfers of firearms.

“I admit I voted ‘no’ on it and here’s why,” Walden told Mason. “You know, if I’ve got a farmer out in eastern Oregon and his son-in-law shows up and they go out pheasant hunting, under their law they tried to pass in the house, if he loaned his son-in-law his shotgun — they just traded shotguns — without going somewhere and getting a background check, it would be a one-year [in prison] felony, $100,000 fine.”

However, that legislation, H.R. 8, says someone can temporarily transfer their firearm if it is “reasonably necessary for the purposes of hunting, trapping, or fishing.”

During the debate over the House legislation, Republicans repeatedly sought broader exemptions for farmers and ranchers. They also wanted to expand the exemption from background checks for family members to include a broader circle of those with family ties, such as in-laws. Democratic leaders refused, saying they did not want to introduce too many loopholes.

Still, under the first example that Walden mentioned — a rancher and a son-in-law out shooting on the ranch — could be covered by the hunting exemption. And depending on the circumstances, so could the second example.

Robin Lloyd, managing director for the Giffords, a gun-control group, said the exemption in the bill is intended to cover limited loans for hunting. What would not be covered is a long-term loan, she said.

“It was not meant to burden everyday Americans who are passing firearms along to their sons or daughters, or who use them regularly for hunting and trapping,” Lloyd said, adding that “it was meant to create a system that does not have the loopholes that exist in our system today.”

The legislation passed the House last February on a 240-190 vote, with only eight Republicans in support. Democratic and Republican leaders have been heatedly wrangling over background checks ever since the 2012 shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, that led to the deaths of 20 elementary school children and six adults.

A bill requiring background checks on all firearm sales at gun shows, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey of Pennsylvania failed to gain the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. And when Democrats took control of the House following the 2018 elections, one of their first priorities was to pass a more expansive background check bill.

Following the violence in Dayton and El Paso, Trump and congressional leaders have been discussing whether they can reach agreement on gun legislation.

Walden told KEX that he might also support national legislation on so-called “red flag” laws. Those allow judges to temporarily remove firearms from people deemed to be in imminent danger of violent action against themselves or others.

Walden noted that Oregon has a red flag law that has raised some questions but that “seems to be working.”

At the same time, Walden said he also has “an obligation to stand up for the Second Amendment.”

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.