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Senate OK’s taking of guns from those at ‘imminent risk’ of suicide, violence


May 2, 2017

EO Media Capital Bureau

People deemed at “imminent risk” of killing themselves or injuring others could have their guns taken away under a bill the Oregon Senate passed Monday, May 1.

Senate Bill 719, which goes to the House, was approved largely along party lines, 17-11.

But 16 Democrats were joined in support by Republican Brian Boquist of Dallas, who lost his oldest son and Navy veteran to suicide more than a year ago — and three soldiers under his Army command to suicide after they returned from the Iraq War more than a decade ago.

Ten Republicans were joined in opposition by Democrat Betsy Johnson of Scappoose. Two others were absent.

“Everyone wants to promote this as a gun bill. It’s not,” said Boquist, the bill’s main floor manager.

“We want to make sure individuals do not lose their gun rights. We are trying to help family members help those individuals.”

The bill allows members of a person’s immediate household — or police at their request — to seek an “extreme risk protection order” from a judge to deny possession of firearms if the person is at imminent risk of suicide or a danger to others.

The judge would have to decide on the request that day or the next judicial day, but the petitioner would have to present “clear and convincing evidence” to justify the order. A person would have 30 days to request a hearing to rescind an order.

“We are targeting only those individuals who want to commit suicide and unfortunately may murder their spouse, their children or their roommate in the house,” Boquist said. “This is not some broad, sweeping confiscation like you see in Breitbart News.”

Boquist said similar processes already are in place in several states, among them Connecticut, California and Washington, where voters in 2016 approved a ballot measure containing it. He said the Washington law is broader than SB 719.

On Feb. 16, 2016, Sethan Charles Sprague, Boquist’s oldest son and a 31-year-old Navy veteran, took his own life.

Although Boquist did not mention his son, he did talk about the three Army veterans under his command who took their own lives after returning from Iraq. He said during his years in the House and Senate, going back to 2005, he has kept an index card on his desk.

“On that card are (the names of) the people I sent to die,” he said. “There is not a serving general officer who sent more people to die than I have — not one,” said Boquist, who leads the Senate Veterans’ Committee. “For 12 years, this Legislature has struggled on what to do about veterans’ suicides and veterans and suicide in general.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oregon recorded a suicide rate of 19.3 per 100,000 in 2016 — and it is rising faster than the growing national rate.

No Democrat spoke other than Majority Leader Ginny Burdick of Portland, who closed debate and praised Boquist for his courage and integrity.

Perhaps because a fellow Republican was its chief manager, Republican opponents refrained from harsh criticism.

Sen. Kim Thatcher of Keizer, one of two Republicans to oppose the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, complained it was too vague.

Thatcher teared up in her closing remarks.

“I am not a veteran (pause) but my family has been touched by suicide,” she said. “There is something that is just not addressable by legislation, and that is the unpredictability of the human mind.

“I have no doubt that this legislation brought forth was out of concern and caring. But it comes down to words on paper. I do not think it will make any difference.”

Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, also an Army veteran, said the real answer is an expansion of mental health services.

“We are the problem because we have not solved it,” he said. “It looks good, feels good, but it does not help anyone.”

Boquist said he agreed, but he took a political beating when he teamed up in 2013 with Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, to secure more money for mental health through higher tobacco taxes.

He referred to incidents in April in Gresham and West Linn. In the April 12 incident in Gresham, police say the man shot his two daughters before taking his own life. On April 21, West Linn police shot a man dead in an incident ruled as a suicide.

Oregon Firearms Federation, which bills itself as a no-compromise group, described Boquist as a “formerly pro-gun Republican” and SB 719 as “one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation the anti-gunners have ever dreamed of.”

There were other views.

“Today the Oregon Senate took an important, bipartisan step to making Oregon safer from gun violence,” said Jenn Lynch, president of the Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety. “Oregonians can work together to find effective solutions to make our communities safer.”

Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun violence prevention group co-founded by former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, offered this statement from Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, member of the advisory committee for Oregon Coalition for Common Sense:

Reese said: “Throughout my career, I have seen how guns in the hands of individuals who are at risk of harming themselves or others can lead to tragedy. Today’s vote by the Oregon Senate is a positive step towards giving law enforcement the tools we need to help people in crisis and make our state a safer place to live.”


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