The mass shooting in Bend on Sunday drew a mixed response from Oregon’s U.S. congressional members, governor, state lawmakers and gubernatorial candidates, with calls for tighter gun controls and wider access to mental health care.
A state lawmaker, state Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend, told the Capital Chronicle he plans to pursue legislative action, starting with a review of Oregon’s gun control laws. Kropf chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
A 20-year-old toting an AR-15 style weapon sprayed bullets in a Safeway parking lot then inside the store, killing two people and wounding a third, police said. They found him dead at the scene with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Gov. Kate Brown said the victims shouldn’t have died.
“Every Oregonian should be able to go to a grocery store without the fear of gun violence,” Brown said in a statement. “The families of these victims will forever be impacted by these senseless acts.”
U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, a Republican who represents eastern Oregon and part of central Oregon in Congress, called the shooting “heartbreaking and tragic” in a tweet. “Please join Lindsay and I in praying for the victims and their families,” Bentz wrote.
The killings coincide with a push in Oregon for tighter gun regulations, with an initiative on the ballot. They also fall during the campaign season, with the governorship, some state races and key congressional seats in competition. Gun control and gun rights divide Oregon voters and candidates.
The shooting also comes at a time of increasing gun violence nationwide. As Brown noted in her statement, the Bend shooting was just one of several this weekend.
In Portland, three people died in separate shootings and officers responded to seven others, according to the Portland Police Bureau. And Salem saw two separate shooting fatalities, with another person injured in a third shooting.
“It was an exceptionally violent weekend here in Salem,” Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack said in a statement. “But I want to assure the community that we are responding appropriately and that these incidents appear to be unrelated.”
Portland is again on track to break its annual homicide record, which was set last year. Of 61 homicides this year, 56 involved firearms, according to Portland Police. There have been 875 confirmed shootings this year in Portland and 271 that left people injured.
At age 18, Oregonians can purchase a gun after passing a criminal background check. A federal loophole allows firearms dealers to sell guns without a background check if it takes longer than three days to complete.
Kropf, a former prosecutor with the Deschutes County District Attorney’s office, told the Capital Chronicle that pursuing legislation to prevent gun violence will be a top priority for him in the 2023 legislative session. He and fellow Democrats will look at closing the background check loophole and banning so-called ghost guns, which are untraceable firearms that can be privately made.
“We’ll keep working during the interim to bring bills forward to stop the kinds of tragedy that took place on Sunday,” he said.
In a news release, he expressed sorrow: “My heart breaks for my community in Bend today. My deepest condolences go out to the victims of last night’s attack and their families, as well as my appreciation for the first responders, hospital workers and store employees who acted swiftly to keep people safe.”
A range of reactions
The three gubernatorial candidates also reacted to the shooting.
“My heart hurts for everyone affected by this,” Tina Kotek, the Democratic candidate, tweeted Monday. “I will keep fighting to keep guns away from those who are likely to harm themselves or others.”
Christine Drazan, the Republican candidate, said in a tweet she was heartbroken. “We need more mental health support and to ensure that we have law enforcement available when and where they are needed to stop crimes before they occur and enforce our laws to ensure we have safe communities and safe streets.”
Betsy Johnson, the nonaffiliated candidate, said in a statement, “We must do more to keep guns away from people who should not have them.” She said she would support and enforce a stronger background check system and would raise the age to buy certain semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21.
Both Johnson and Drazan support gun rights and have “A” ratings by the National Rifle Association. Drazan opposes more restrictions.
Kotek has called for stricter state and federal regulations and proposed legislation to expand background checks and ban gun purchases by people with domestic abuse charges.
Surveys show a majority of Oregonians support stricter gun laws. Sixty percent of Oregonians polled in June by the nonpartisan Oregon Values and Beliefs Center in Portland supported tighter gun regulations at the federal level, and 56% said the same about the state’s laws. The figures are consistent across demographic categories including geography, age, race and gender, and are in line with recent nationwide polling by Pew.
Also on the November ballot is a voter initiative that would tighten gun laws in Oregon. Measure 114 would ban the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines, require a firearm safety course, tighten licensing and create stricter background checks on weapon purchases. It would also close the background check loophole and require firearm safety classes for people who purchase firearms.