Supporters of Portland Mayor Sam Adam's proposed gun control laws Thursday called them a needed tool for law enforcement to crack down on gang-related shootings, while critics voiced concerns about their constitutionality, and potential for unfairly targeting young blacks.
Three proposed ordinances would hold adults responsible if their gun gets into a child's hands, penalize gun owners who don't report the theft or loss of a firearm, and designate shooting hot spots and allow the city to exclude certain gun offenders from them.
Two other code changes would set a 7 p.m. curfew for juveniles who have been convicted of a gun offense such as possessing or illegally using a firearm, and would enact a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail for a gun offender found carrying a loaded gun in a public place, including a vehicle or on transit.
The council, where the mayor appears to have majority support, will vote on the measures Dec. 1.
Portland police said gang violence response team call-outs are up 20 percent this year, with 80 recorded so far, compared to a total of 68 in each of the last two calendar years.
Police Chief Mike Reese called it "disheartening" to see gang violence increase after the community made significant strides to curb the daily drive-by shootings that he confronted as a patrol officer in the mid- to late-1980s. Gang Enforcement Team Lt. Dave Hendrie said the stiffer juvenile curfew ordinance, which would affect 20 to 30 youth on probation for gun offenses, and the proposed illegal firearms exclusion zones would allow officers to remove people with a violent past from potentially hostile situations.
Multnomah County gang prosecutor Pat Callahan, County Commissioner Judy Shiprack, state Sen. Ginny Burdick, and Ceasefire Oregon officials spoke in favor of the laws.
"It is time to hold gun owners responsible for keeping their guns away from children, said Elise Gautier, who sits on Ceasefire Oregon's board of directors."How many other young men and children are going to be shot to death before we say this has got to stop?"
Yet gun rights advocates questioned their constitutionality. Ross Eliot, editor and publisher of American Gun Culture Report, said the city is ignoring more serious issues when crime has dipped to the lowest level in decades.
Members of the African American community, civil rights advocates and other community members voiced concerns that curfews and hot spot exclusion zones would unfairly target young blacks and simply shift the problems to other parts of the city.
Some argued that the proposals don't address the root causes of the violence, such as a lack of jobs, schooling and social support services for those with fractured families who turn to violence.
Terresa Raiford, whose nephew Andre Payton was fatally shot Sept. 26 in a gang shootout in Old Town, said the proposals failed to go after gun traffickers and won't keep gang members from getting guns outside of the city limits. Garvin Franklin Jr., a former Crip gang member who is working with other former gang members as part of a group called Brothers Reaching Out, or BRO, said he fears that the ordinances will penalize young black males.
"Young people who are not involved in gangs will be targeted," Franklin said.
Adams responded, saying the city is precluded from regulating the sale of guns. He said he has deep concerns about racial profiling, and that's why he will have an oversight committee monitor police action and report to council every six months.
Kevin Starrett, executive director of Oregon Firearms Federation, has argued that the measures violate a state law enacted in 1995 that says cities can't have ordinances to regulate or prohibit the sale, ownership or other uses of firearms or components such as ammunition.
But Dave Woboril, deputy city attorney, told the council that the state's pre-emption law doesn't restrict the city's measures. He argued that the mayor's proposals don't regulate storage or ownership.
"It is not the universe of everything that has to do with firearms," Woboril said, of the state's pre-emption law.
The ACLU of Oregon, in a letter to the mayor, argued that any exclusions as a condition of someone's probation or parole should be handled by the courts not the city or police. This way, the person facing the exclusion would be represented by an attorney.