I’m an East Coast guy, but the one time I drove through Oregon I made a point of stopping off at the Pendleton factory store because I can’t remember the last time I walked into a sporting goods store anywhere in the United States and didn’t see a rack of Pendleton shirts. And I have always been fascinated by Oregon because the country expanded from ‘sea to shining sea’ when settlers hitched up their wagons and rolled across the Oregon Trail.
So it came as something of a shock to read an op-ed in The Oregonian about the state’s terrible problem with gun violence because you would think that a state with such a vibrant pioneer tradition would have a pretty good record when it comes to the use of guns. But in fact the record is bad and getting worse.
Back in 2001, the state recorded a total of 358 gun deaths, for a per-100,000 rate of 10.16. In 2015, the raw number was 486, an increase of 35%, and the death rate had climbed to 11.36. Between 2011 and 2015 there were 1,862 motor vehicle deaths in Oregon; during the same five-year period gun deaths have totaled 2,308. That’s not bad, that’s real bad. Most of the Oregon gun deaths involve suicide, which accounted for 1,894 of the 2,308 deaths between 2011 and 2015. But gun homicides jumped from 68 in 2011 to 105(!) in 2015, so what’s going on?
It used to be a fundamental Gun-nut Nation axiom that the availability of guns had nothing to do with suicide at all. I even received emails from gun nuts who would pompously lecture me on the ‘right’ of persons suffering from severe mental distress to choose the way they wanted to die. But those loony emails have disappeared since the NSSF announced a partnership with the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide which, we hope, will bring gun-suicide rates down. But they haven’t come down in Oregon; au contraire, they keep going up.
Which brings us back to the op-ed in The Oregonian by Dr. Leigh Dolin, an internist in Portland, who happens to have been President of the Oregon Medical Association and now sits on the OMA Board. Dr. Dolin has been a tireless advocate of sensible gun laws and his editorial is an effort to raise awareness about two bills before the Oregon Legislature, one of which, Senate Bill 868, would create a lawful process for law enforcement or family members to take guns away from individuals whose access to a gun would probably result in a suicide attempt or a gun assault.
The proposed ‘extreme risk’ law requires that the gun-owner in question be served notice to surrender all guns. He can request a court hearing to determine whether, in fact, his guns should be taken away. Before such an order can be issued, law enforcement or family members have to produce evidence that the gun-owner is, in fact, a danger to himself and others, and the order can be ended if the gun-owner presents evidence that he is no longer a threat to himself or anyone else. A similar law was enacted in Connecticut in 1999, and probably saved dozens of lives.
Leave it to the NRA to oppose the new bill because the individual who might be an ‘extreme risk’ will lose his 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ The Oregonian says that Dr. Dolin’s statement is an ‘opinion’ but the only people who believe there’s no link between gun access and gun violence are the same bunch who swear the government’s hiding something at Area 51.
There’s nothing in the 2nd Amendment that says we can’t protect ourselves against gun violence before the violence occurs. And despite what a few people still believe and will tell you every time they get a chance, you just can’t commit gun violence without a gun. If you don’t believe me, make your hand look like a gun, hold it against your head and go – click.