Governor open to restrictions on assault weapons

Governor open to restrictions on assault weapons
An AR-15 semi-automatic rifle is seen in this photo.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Last week's shooting in an Oregon shopping mall and massacre at a Connecticut elementary school have made it all but certain that gun control will be on the table when the state Legislature convenes Jan. 10.

It remains to be seen, however, whether any restrictions will be approved in a state where a majority of households have guns, and where Democrats, who are generally more favorable to regulation, hold a slim 16-14 advantage in the Senate.

When Gov. John Kitzhaber ordered flags at half-staff for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, he said he supported President Barack Obama's call for meaningful action to limit future tragedies.

Kitzhaber's spokesman, Tim Raphael, said Wednesday that the Democratic governor has asked his staff to bring forward a range of options to improve school security, expand access to mental health and address firearms regulations.

The twin rampages caused everyone to reflect on these intertwined issues and there's "clearly an opportunity to make progress," Raphael said.

Though improving school security and mental health might find bipartisan support, a potential ban on military-style assault weapons would not.

Ceasefire Oregon, a nonprofit group the seeks to reduce gun violence, has pushed for a ban on such weapons and has support from several Democratic legislators, including Sen. Ginny Burdick and Rep. Mitch Greenlick, both of Portland. The governor also appears to be on board.

"He really sees no reason for civilians to have assault weapons," Raphael said.

Burdick also plans to introduce legislation that would ban ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. Greenlick, meanwhile, is sponsoring a bill to help schools pay for security enhancements.

"I believe in a well-regulated militia," Greenlick said. "But I don't believe every person has to have an assault rifle, or an atomic bomb or a tank or whatever."

The support of Greenlick and Burdick is not unexpected because both have long backed gun control. There is no indication, however, that pro-gun legislators are ready to switch positions.

Shortly after the Connecticut carnage, in which a gunman killed 20 children and seven adults, state Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, emailed several school superintendents to say the death toll would have been lower if the gunman had been confronted with a weapon. Richardson said at least three officials in every school should be trained in the use of firearms.

Sen. Ted Ferrioli, of John Day, the top Senate Republican, said laws restricting certain firearms would affect law-abiding citizens and do nothing to deter criminals or madmen.

"Nothing makes sense if we're talking about someone who is deranged," he said. "You can't reach them with a deterrent and you can't reason with them."

To draw a parallel, Ferrioli said he believes some killers are motivated to shoot up public places because they want notoriety. Banning the media from releasing the names of mass killers might reduce violence, he said, but at the cost of First Amendment rights.

Ferrioli said lawmakers are under tremendous pressure "to do something" after a major event, but finding a fair, effective solution is easier said than done.

"There are a lot of forms of grieving, and one of them is to try to take some meaningful action," he said. "But I don't think anything I've heard suggested so far is meaningful."

Besides holding a two-seat advantage in the Senate, Democrats control the House 34-26. Even with those advantages, getting the votes for gun control will not be easy, Greenlick said.

"It's not an easy call for some of the legislators, particularly some of the new ones," he said. "They are, as I am, being bombarded by mail from all over the state, telling us that we're leaders of a fascist state trying to take away the guns of the citizens."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.