Local Limits to "Open Carry"
2:54 pm
Sat February 1, 2014

Ashland to Ponder Gun Restrictions

Local gun laws spark controversy
Credit Enoch Lai/Wikimedia

The Ashland  city council is poised to consider taking up a pair of ordinances proposed by a community group concerned about gun violence. Whether Ashland adopts the new laws or not, it raises questions about how far local gun restrictions can go, and what they can accomplish.

Ashland resident Dave Herring says the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut was a turning point for him and a group of friends.

Dave Herring: “We were frustrated and of course saddened by that event, and frustrated that it seemed the state and federal government can’t do much or at least isn’t doing much about gun violence. So we came up with the idea of trying to take some action on the local level to make guns safer in our own community.”

They formed the group Citizens for a Safe Ashland and put a petition online asking the Ashland City Council to enact two new ordinances. One would prohibit anyone without a concealed handgun permit from openly carrying a loaded firearm. The other would make it a crime to fail to prevent a child from getting access to a gun. 

While state law preempts most local gun laws, a number of cities around Oregon do have restrictions on loaded open carry. Portland and Multnomah County have the child access law as well.

Dave Herring says he has friends and family who hunt and enjoy shooting sports.

Dave Herring: “I don’t think these ordinances would restrict those activities at all or restrict anyone’s gun rights.”

Kevin Starrett disagrees.

Kevin Starrett: “I think it’s ill-advised because it accomplishes nothing.”

Starrett heads the Oregon Firearms Federation, a group that bills itself as “Oregon’s only no-compromise gun lobby.”

Kevin Starrett: “There are people who carry firearms openly who are hurting nobody. And if Ashland decides to try to regulate them, they’re not really regulating criminals. They’re regulating people who are breaking no laws.”

Starrett says some people openly carry guns because they’re legally armed for self-protection and see no reason to hide it. Other, he says, are making a political statement. That may make some people uncomfortable, he says, but …

Kevin Starrett: “They’re doing it as a form of protest. Protests are always intended to be provocative.”

For Starrett, the bottom line is that law-abiding citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights are not a threat to the public, and laws to restrict them do nothing to prevent gun violence.

Kevin Starrett: “Obviously, a person who chooses to do something criminal or harmful is not terribly interested in Ashland’s ordinances against open loaded carry.”

Elaine Replogle: “It’s hard to walk in the middle of this debate. There’s not an easy middle place to be.”

Elaine Replogle teaches sociology at the University of Oregon. She says one reason this so contentious in the US is that, unlike in many other countries, gun ownership is framed as a matter of fundamental rights, rather than of public health. 

She notes that 30,000 Americans die from guns each year, and that more than 60 percent of homicides are committed with guns. Still, she says, the data suggest gun rights advocates may have a point when they say guns don’t kill people, people do.

Elaine Replogle: “There are other countries, for instance, that have high rate of gun ownership, but that don’t have our same murder rates. So there’s something else going on to explain our murder rates, it’s not only explained by guns.”

On the other hand, Replogle says, people who carry a gun for protection are misinformed.

Elaine Replogle: “There’s actually been quite a bit of research debunking the idea that you’re safer because you have a gun.”

In fact, she says one study showed your chances of getting shot are more than four times higher if you’re armed. As for whether the kind of restrictions being proposed in Ashland actually make the streets safer,

Replogle says there’s just not enough research to say.

Dave Herring acknowledges Ashland hasn’t had much of a problem with gun violence. And he’ll admit his groups’ proposal could be seen as largely symbolic.

Dave Herring: “In a way it is, but also I’d point out that symbols have power. So to the extent that it’s symbolic, I think it still has power.”

It’s that symbolic power that’s likely drive passions on both sides as the Ashland City Council prepares to discuss whether to enact local gun control laws.