Impassioned testimony highlights Oregon hearing on gun storage bill

Rabbi Michael Cahana of Portland’s Congregation Beth Israel testifies in favor of a safe gun storage proposal during a hearing at the Capitol Friday, Feb. 7, on behalf of interfaith nonprofit organization Life Every Voice Oregon. (Sam Stites/Oregon Capital Bureau)

SALEM – Lawmakers on the House judiciary committee heard nearly three hours of public testimony Friday, Feb. 7, regarding a bill that would require Oregonians to keep their firearms under lock and key or face penalties. 

More than two dozen concerned citizens on both for and against the House Bill 4005 came to express their opinions in two-minute stints.

Before the public was allowed to testify, the bill’s sponsors Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn, and Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, took a moment to explain why the bill is needed. 

“Unsecured firearm storage is an important contributor to access and is especially dangerous to children,” Sollman told the committee. “We need protections for youth and for those in mental crisis, and we need to keep firearms out of the hands of unauthorized users.” 

HB 4005 would obligate gun owners to secure their firearms with a trigger or cable lock, in a locked container such a safe or gun room. Under the bill, violation of this law would be punishable by up to $500 fine. If a minor gets their hands on a gun that was found to be unsecured, a fine of up to $2,000 is applicable, and a gun owner could be held liable for an unsecured firearm that causes injury or property damage with some exceptions. It would also require gun owners to report to police within 72 hours of finding their firearm has been lost or stolen punishable by up to $1,000 fine. The bill leaves the specific minimum regulations for trigger locks and storage would up to the Oregon Health Authority to define if passed. 

Testimony was evenly split between those for and against the bill, and many impassioned presentations of their experience with gun violence, home invasion, assault, losing a loved one and fear for personal safety. 

One of the first to testify was Paul Kemp, brother-in-law of Steve Forsyth, one of the three for which the bill is named who lost their lives in the Clackamas Town Center shooting in 2012. The shooter in that event had stolen the firearm he used from an acquaintance. 

Forsyth talked about having to notify his nephew that his father had passed away in the incident, and how he hopes no one else has to shoulder that burden. 

“The circumstances that allowed the Clackamas Town Center mall shooting years ago will finally be addressed by the 2020 legislature with passage of HB 4005,” Kemp said. “My sister and I learned (after the event) the owner of those guns had no obligation under Oregon law to report them as stolen, in fact, the legal gun owner did not call the police until the mall shooting was national news that afternoon.”

Kemp and others cited numbers intended to show the stakes of the situation, including that suicides involving firearms in the U.S. have increased by 19% over the past decade, that in Oregon, 82% of gun deaths are suicides, and that less than 5% of suicide attempts without a gun result in death. 

According to Ben Hoffman, a pediatrician and expert on child injury at the Oregon Health and Science University, Oregon’s rate of suicide for children and teens is 34% higher than the rest of the country, and that in the last five eyars, the rate has increased by 50%. 

On the other side, Klamath County resident Scott DeCarlo said he’s saddened by statistics, but that doesn’t give the legislature the right to infringe on his second amendment right. 

“I’m definitely sorry that some children have taken their lives, that’s awful, but statistically, the number is quite small,” DeCarlo said. 

“We should not be having this hearing,” he continued. “We have no right to do this. It’s ludicrous to think that when I fall asleep, technically, that gun is no longer under my control, so I have to lock it. So, somebody kicks in my door in the middle of the night, I’m supposed to lock my firearm up when I’m supposed to be safe in my home?” 

But Rabbi Michael Cahana, representing the interfaith nonprofit Lift Every Voice Oregon, pointed out that there are no more safe spaces with the proliferation of firearms in America today. 

“There are no safe spaces in malls, in schools, as we’ve heard, and religious institutions as well, are under threat,” Cahana said. “The safe storage of owned weapons is something we should all be able to unite behind. We stand strongly behind this bill and urge it’s moving forward.” 

The testimony went on, back and forth, for the better part of the afternoon Friday. As contentious as the bill is, both sides contained their emotions to the tables sitting before the committee’s dais, except for one man named Manuel Martinez whose bizarre testimony agains the bill — which included mention of “Marxism,” “Communism,” “impeachment” and “Trump” — continued in spurting shouts as he exited. 

A work session is scheduled for the bill on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at 1 p.m. in hearing room E at the Oregon State Capitol. It’s expected that amendments to the bill, including clarifications on certain situations in which the owner of a firearm may or may not be held liable, will receive more public testimony.