Another Voice: Gun safety advocates examine Helfrich vote

The Oregon legislature recently passed HB 4145, closing the “boyfriend loophole” and providing much-needed protection for victims of domestic violence. Representative Jeff Helfrich’s “Another Voice” article (April 7 Another Voice) tried to explain his “no” vote on the bill.

Rep. Helfrich suggested that he voted against the bill because no funding was attached to ensure its implementation. However, the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) determined that the bill would have minimal financial impact, and noted specifically that local law enforcement entities would not be financially impacted. Even if the LFO had identified funding needs, Rep. Helfrich’s argument is essentially “more needs to be done, so we shouldn’t do anything.” With all due respect, that is not legislating, that’s a failure of leadership.

We are students at Hood River Valley High School and committed activists against gun violence. We are very invested in gun safety legislation and our legislators’ willingness to respond to the need for it because our country is no longer safe for everyone.

The fact that high schoolers like us have legitimate fear of being gunned down during class or killed by a partner in an act of rage shows how crucial gun safety legislation is. It’s common sense.

Let’s clarify what this new law does:

It closes the “boyfriend loophole,” so that a dating partner convicted of domestic abuse cannot purchase or possess a gun, extending the same protections to women abused by a dating partner that previously only applied to a domestic partner. This is important because research shows that just as many women are shot and killed by dating partners as by spouses.

It also adds convicted stalkers to the group of people who are prohibited from purchasing or possessing a weapon, because attempted murders of women are frequently preceded by incidents of stalking.

Finally, the law creates an alert system, so that when someone who is prohibited from purchasing a gun tries to do so (a crime in itself), local law enforcement is notified and can investigate and respond.

It is hard to fathom a vote against protection of survivors of domestic violence and/or stalking coming from someone who, like Rep. Helfrich, has worked in law enforcement. An analysis of line-of-duty deaths by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund confirms that domestic calls are among the most dangerous for police officers. Multnomah County Sheriff Michael Reese testified in support of HB 4145, citing the vastly improved protection the bill offers for both domestic violence victims and for on-the-ground law enforcement personnel responding to domestic calls.

Rep. Helfrich is correct that this new law doesn’t protect our schools. We agree on that point. That’s why we and students across the country are demanding safer schools and relief from the pervasive fear that stems from our country’s culture of gun violence. The public is demanding gun reform laws that will help make other places we visit every day safer, too, including our churches, theaters, concerts, neighborhoods, and streets.

This can and must get better. New gun safety laws are being introduced at federal and state levels. In Oregon, Initiative Petitions 43 and 44 will hopefully progress to appear on the November ballot. Giffords Law Center currently gives Oregon a grade of “C” for the strength of its gun laws, and specifically recommends legislation limiting bulk purchases of firearms, regulating ammunition purchases, and requiring safe storage of firearms in the home. Each of these proposed safety measures gives Rep. Helfrich and other elected officials an opportunity to respond to our demands for smart laws that will reduce the frequency of gun violence.

Rep. Helfrich, we are watching your response to these bills and your proposals for alternatives, and, we will hold you accountable.

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