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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

City Council Adopts Sam Adams' Gun Control Laws

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Dec 1, 2010 at 11:29 AM

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With all the earnest debate coming at a public hearing two weeks ago, the Portland City Council this morning quietly and quickly approved a controversial package of gun-control laws that critics complain would either infringe on gun owners' rights or lead to racial profiling in African-American neighborhoods.

But that wasn't how the council saw it. Saving just one life, they said, makes it all worth it.

And with words like "pleased" and "proud" presaging their votes, they unanimously delivered Mayor Sam Adams a political victory on an issue—gun control—that's meant to shore up his public safety credentials and deflect criticism from community members who say he cares more about gee-whiz things like bikes and solar panels than nuts-and-bolts concerns like crime.

A bit melodramatically, Adams declared his colleagues had "broken two decades of of legal silence on the regulation of guns, two decades of legislative silence on reducing gun murders and gun injuries and assaults in this city."

The proposals, which Adams says he was working on since taking over as police commissioner last spring, were unveiled in August after a particularly headline-grabbing run of gang-related shootings. And it took months after their initial unveiling before they were hammered out into final form, partly because of how carefully they had to be parsed to avoid running afoul of Oregon's pre-emption rules prohibiting most municipal gun control ordinances.

At a glance, Adams' proposals create a curfew for juvenile gun criminals, add three shooting hotspot exclusion zones (in Northeast, Gateway, and downtown) for gun convicts, add penalties for carrying a loaded gun in public, punish anyone who allows a child or minor to access a gun, and require gun owners to report promptly lost or stolen guns. (Read more about them here, here, and here.

The council also approved an oversight plan, working with Multnomah County, to weigh how effective the proposals are, as well as devise and push forward strategies for reducing gang violence apart from those steeped in law enforcement. The mayor's exclusion zones will be studied in earnest, Adams has promised, with reports made public every six months.

"It's been a very respectful and reasoned discussion," Commissioner Amanda Fritz said, "and I think that's a good thing."

Adams, as he's said before, stressed his pledge to ensure his exclusion zones don't lead unfairly to racial profiling. But citing police statistics, and noting what will likely be a reality when it comes to those who will find themselves affected by the new laws: "There is a unique racial aspect to this issue that we cannot pretend does not exist. Young African-American males are killed and injured by guns at a higher rate than any other segment of the population."

As for lawsuits and the legal issues raised loudly by some gun advocates? Nick Fish said he trusts the city's legal advice, but that "if someone sues us and it turns out we need to modify this problem, an impartial judge will tell us, not an advocate."

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