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Kelly speaks to Oregon Senate as expanded background checks are considered

SALEM, Ore. — The husband of former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle
Giffords, Mark Kelly, appeared before Oregon legislators on Thursday to speak in
favor of expanded background checks for gun sales, as Republicans contended the
Democrat-proposed legislation is “political posturing” as Oregon’s May primary
nears.

Kelly spoke at a contentious public hearing before the state Senate Judiciary
Committee, which began examination of a bill that would expand background checks
to include private party gun sales. Kelly said he and Giffords support gun
rights for sport, self-defense and “part of our national heritage.” But he
said Oregon’s current law has “a loophole you could drive a small truck
through” that could allow criminals to obtain guns through sales arranged
privately.

“When dangerous people get guns, we are all vulnerable,” said Kelly, whose
wife was one of 13 people injured in 2011 as she met with constituents in
Tucson, Ariz. Six people were killed.

Sitting next to Kelly was Gov. John Kitzhaber, who said criminal background
checks “have proven to be a reasonable and effective method” for keeping guns
out of criminal’s hands. He said he supported the bill to expand those checks
and hoped it would pass.

Gun rights activists also showed up for the hearing. They contended that the
bill, SB 1551, would be ineffective and unenforceable.

Daniel Reid, a representative of the National Rifle Association, cited Oregon
State Police data indicating that less than 1 percent of the background checks
in 2012 and 2013 resulted in denials of gun purchases. Reid said criminals get
guns through illegal methods already and the Oregon bill would have “a
disproportionate impact on law-abiding citizens.”

Oregon law requires criminal background checks on those purchasing handguns
from a licensed dealer or firearms from anyone at a gun show. It allows those
selling guns to request background checks for sales not conducted at gun shows,
but does not require them. As part of the background check, the seller must
provide certain identifying information about the buyer and the firearm.

Kevin Starrett, director of the Oregon Firearms Federation, argued that current
law has already set up a registry of gun owners and weapons. He said gun owners
worry it could someday lead to a confiscation of firearms.

Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, called Starrett’s comments a “conspiracist
perspective” and said the committee would consider any evidence that data was
being improperly retained, if Starrett could provide it. Under Oregon law, the
State Police are not allowed to retain information obtained from background
checks for more than five years.

A similar bill, SB 700, was considered during the 2013 regular session but
failed to pass out of the Judiciary Committee for a vote on the Senate floor.

Republican legislators have argued that Democrats revived the legislation
mainly as a political show in advance of the May 20 primary.

After the Thursday hearing, two GOP state senators — Betsy Close of Albany and
Jeff Kruse of Roseburg — issued a statement calling the legislation “political
posturing in preparation for election season.”

“It is disappointing that we are focusing on such a divisive topic when the
issue that deserves our attention is mental health care,” they said.

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