The news set off a buying spree of assault-style rifles—the choice of many sharpshooters, hunters and crazed mass killers—as lawmakers wrote bills to address the easy availability of such weapons and big ammunition clips.
Less than three months later, the debate has cooled, and the talk in Salem is that there is little Oregonians can expect from the Legislature.
We hear from pro-gun rights activists that these rifles—the AR-15s and Bushmaster 22s, for example—aren’t the problem.
Still, we remained curious about the gun violence no one seems in any particular hurry to address: Just who is getting killed, and by what kind of gun?
So we dug through the numbers—specifically, the tally of gun deaths in Multnomah County and Oregon.
It turns out the handgun does more damage.
Of the almost 780 gun-related deaths in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties over a five-year period, more than 500—or about two out of three—deaths were from handguns, according to statistics from the Oregon Health Authority.
Statewide, it’s just under 60 percent.
While the debate has focused on how to prevent one person from shooting another, the gun violence that does the most damage is self-inflicted.
Gun-related suicides in Oregon account for four out of five firearm deaths. That’s well above the national average of about 60 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Kevin Starrett, director of the Oregon Firearms Federation, says the numbers show legislators are addressing the wrong kind of gun if they’re trying to have the most impact.
“A handgun is just more practical,” Starrett says. “With crime, it’s easier to be concealed and it’s easier to be disposed of. For suicides, it’s just easier to use. Why focus on the firearm that is least likely to be used? Because you can get the most emotion out of it.”
The most far-reaching bill aimed at curbing gun violence is House Bill 3200, which would ban the ownership or sale of assault weapons and large-volume magazines. Current owners would either have to give up their assault weapons or register them with the state.
Critics say it’s overreaching. Even the bill’s chief sponsor, Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland), says it’s problematic. The outlook is, it won’t get far.
But those hopeful for some action in Salem—acknowledging that assault weapons don’t pose the biggest threat—say they still want lawmakers to address assault-style guns.
Penny Okamoto, executive director of Ceasefire Oregon, says bills requiring universal background checks and a strict, two-week buyer waiting period would help curb suicides and handgun deaths.
“Bottom line,” she says, “let’s get these weapons of war off the streets.”