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Monday, November 8, 2010

BREAKING: At Last, A Glimpse At Sam Adams' Gun Laws

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Mon, Nov 8, 2010 at 11:15 AM

Mayor Sam Adams and Police Chief Mike Reese, shown at a Q Center forum earlier this year, are preparing to roll out new gun laws for Portland.
  • Mayor Sam Adams and Police Chief Mike Reese, shown at a Q Center forum earlier this year, are preparing to roll out new gun laws for Portland.
According to the latest city hall calendar, Mayor Sam Adams' long-awaited gun laws are finally set to go before the Portland City Council on Thursday, November 18. Of course, that can change, as it has a few times before.

But the mayor's office appears to have done most of its planned "vetting," the stated reason for the previous delays in finishing a process that began with a bold pronouncement from Adams after a summer surge in gang violence.

His office has a 20-page packet of draft ordinances, which I've managed to obtain an exclusive copy of, that spell out in detail his plans for youth curfews, penalties for failure to report gun theft and/or loss and carrying loaded guns in public, and the creation of gun hot-spot zones where anyone convicted (key word) of gun crimes would be banned.

The packet spends several pages explaining the city's legal rationale for the proposed ordinances, seeking to undercut claims by gun-rights advocates that state code preempts these kind of rules. Cities are not allowed to regulate matters of gun sales, ownership, and storage and transportation. The city points to Oregon codes that allow municipalities to regulate the possession of loaded guns in public, as well as how and where guns are firearms are discharged. The packet also defends the city's proposed rules as regulating people, not guns.

Adams and his staff previewed the rules Friday in a closed-door meeting with the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, a group that has raised further questions about the proposals: specifically that they might lead to racial profiling and other civil liberties violations. Some members still have those concerns, even after the rules have been spelled out in more detail, and even after the mayor pointed out that convictions, not arrests, will be the litmus test for applying any exclusions or the curfew.

I'll break down each of the five proposals after the jump. (And I'll post digital copies as soon as they're available; more tweaking is possible.)

1. Youth Curfew

Minors in Portland are already subject to curfews, the times of which vary depending on a child's age and whether it's a school night or not. Under the new rules, minors who have been convicted of any gun crime and are on probation or under court supervision will need to stay home from 7 pm every night to 6 am the next morning. Exceptions: If someone is traveling to a school event. Advocates have raised serious concerns about this proposal. They fear this will give police a pretext to target African-American youths who haven't done anything wrong. The mayor's office says it will work closely with probation officers and the courts to keep police tightly focused on the handful of kids this would actually apply to.

2. Allowing A Child to Access a Firearm

It would become a city infraction if someone who owns a firearm allows that gun to wind up in the hands of a minor, without permission from that child's parent or guardian. You'd be off the hook if the gun was stolen during a break-in, has a trigger lock or was locked away. I'm assuming those are nods to state pre-emption laws that don't allow regulation of how guns are stored. Fines are up $1,250, with up to a 30-day jail sentence, if a child not only takes the gun, but also takes it to school or a school event.

3. Gun Theft and/or Loss

Gun owners have 48 hours to report lost or stolen guns, and must provide a serial number as part of the reporting. If they don't report, they face a $500 fine. If they can't provide a serial number, there's a "$200 administrative fee."

4. Loaded Guns in Public

Unless you fall into a wide-ranging list of people allowed to carry guns as part of their official responsibilities—like cops, soldiers, licensed concealed gun holders, prison guards, hunters and fishers, someone headed to a gun range—you could face six months behind bars and a $500 fine if found carrying a loaded gun in public. If you're caught driving with a loaded gun, or bring one on public transportation, there's a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days. You also are required to allow police to inspect your weapon and ammunition. Some community members suggest the mayor's office should start with higher fines for this rule as well as the one before it.

5. Gun-Crime Hotspots and Exclusions

This will, perhaps, prove among the most controversial of the proposals, recalling controversies over Portland's now-abandoned drug- and prosititution free zones. Adams has said the difference this time will be a focus on convictions, not arrests, sharply limiting the number of Portlanders affected while raising the bar for when authorities can approach someone.

Under this law, the council or the police bureau would designate certain areas where gun crimes are more frequent as "hotspots." That designation will last three years and be posted publicly. In addition, anyone convicted of a state or city gun crime would be banned from any hotspot for one year or for the duration of any probation, parole, or court supervision. But the proposed law does not spell out how many hotspots might be in effect at once or how broadly they will be drawn around clusters of shootings.

There are some exemptions: Meetings with a lawyer or anything related to court or the justice system. You could take a bus, train or an interstate highway through a zone. Maybe you actually live in a hotspot; that would be okay. So would going to work, school, or seeking help from a social services agency.

Violating the exclusion would result in a $500 fine and/or a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail. There is an appeals process, and other ways to modify the terms of an exclusion, but such things are likely to be decided by the police—as in, the same agency that ordered the exclusion in the first place. As such, there are strong concerns about racial profiling.

And that means, especially when the "yay, guns!" crowd weighs in, that next Thursday's meeting is going to be a loooong one. Which is a good thing.

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