FILE — Oregon Stop the Steal protesters

Supporters of Donald Trump attend a "Stop the Steal" protest at the Oregon state Capitol in Salem on November 8, 2020. The day drew several hundred supporters of then President Trump, who refused to concede the 2020 presidential election to President Joe Biden on account of unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. 

(The Center Square) – Two mass shootings over the past 10 days have brought Oregon’s flags to half mast and reignited Democrats' appetite for gun reform.

On March 16, eight people were killed, six of whom were Asian women, in shootings at spas in Atlanta, Ga.

On March 22, 10 people, including a local on-duty police officer, were killed in a shooting at a King Soopers supermarket in Boulder, Colo.

In the time since, the two shootings have sparked new calls for and against gun control along party lines nationwide, including in Oregon where gun control has been an uphill battle for state Democrats.

"You’re damn right I’m going to politicize it," state Rep. Dacia Grayber, D-Tigard, tweeted Monday. "ENOUGH. Thoughts and prayers don’t save lives, words and actions do. #Gunsense legislation, nationally and here in OR, now."

The Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012, as followed by the FBI, defines mass shootings or killings as three or more people in public places.

In 2020, two mass shootings were reported in Oregon. The first saw four people shot and another killed at Portland's Gateway Discovery Park on August 27. The second saw four more people shot at a house party in Happy Valley on December 31. Neither shootings resulted in arrests.

A study of 2020 Gun Violence Archive statistics by USA TODAY found mass shootings soared by 47% around the nation. In 2020, there were 611 reported mass shootings which left 513 people dead and 2,543 injured. In 2019, there were 417 mass shootings with 465 deaths and 1,707 injured.

Overall, violent crime has been on the decline in Oregon between 2001 and 2017 at just 74% of the nation average of 383 offenses per 100,000 people. 

Under current state law, concealed handgun license holders have an affirmative defense for possessing a firearm in airports and public buildings like schools. The issue has taken a more serious turn given the increasing number of armed protests held by far-right groups around the Oregon state Capitol in Salem.

Introduced in January, Senate Bill 554 would let local governments and school districts ban firearm possession from the premises. It also raises concealed handgun license fees from $50 to $100 and renewal fees from $50 to $75.

The bill was just one piece of legislation held up by a Senate GOP walkout protest in February. On Thursday, it passed the chamber by a vote of 16-7.

Oregon has approved some gun control reform in recent years, from enhanced background checks to red flag laws, but its gun laws are more lax than most liberal states. To date, the open-carry state does not ban extended magazines, assault weapons, or mandate waiting periods and safety training. The minimum age for gun ownership in Oregon is 18.

State Sen. James Manning Jr., D-Eugene, a gun owner and a chief sponsor of SB 554, said the bill treats all concealed handgun license holders equally and does not restrict those licenses. A veteran, Manning also served in law enforcement.

"When a gun is present the situation is more dangerous and the loss of life is more likely," Manning said. "The bill makes sense. It gives choice. It will make our schools safer, public workers safer and the community members who need to go to these buildings safer."

Senate Republican Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Lyons, disagreed on Thursday. He argued the bill punishes law-abiding gun owners, though he did not say how it would restrict sales or licenses. His GOP peers also took issue with SB 554's maximum $125,000 in possible fines and five years of potential prison time.

Girod took shots at Senate Democrats on Thursday for branding gun control as public safety while trying to repeal the state's "one-strike and you're out" law for juvenile offenders, which he compared to siding with "rapists, kidnappers, child pornographers, and attempted murderers."

In a statement, Girod referenced one study from the Crime Prevention Research Center which claimed that less than .0074% of Oregonians with concealed handgun licenses have committed felonies over the past decade. The study was authored by John Lott, a former Trump administration official and former staff member at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank. 

“Let me be clear, this radical policy does absolutely nothing to solve gun violence or make communities safer,” Girod said. “It will make it worse. Democrats have brought forth zero evidence that this will do anything except criminalize responsible Oregonians.”

Democratic state lawmakers and gun control advocates say Oregon cannot afford to wait for more mass shootings to happen thanks to a few bad apples, however.

If Oregon Democrats have their way, there is plenty more gun control legislation to work on this session. One bill intended to close the so-called "gun show loophole" by requiring gun show dealers to conduct background checks with the state police when making a sale. It is slated for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday at 1 p.m.

SB 554 is scheduled to receive its first floor reading in the House on Monday.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.