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An Honest Look at Oregon’s Gun Violence Problem

By Penny Okamoto, Executive Director of Ceasefire Oregon

The 2017 Oregon Legislature convenes today. A number of proposals to reduce the risk of gun-related deaths and injuries stemming from criminal activity, unintentional shootings, and suicide have already been introduced and more are expected. Ceasefire Oregon supports effective, fact-based legislation that will avoid tragedies and save lives.

As the session formally begins, let’s get some facts straight:

  1. Gun violence in Oregon is not just an urban problem; it’s a rural problem as well.
  2. The gun industry fights declining profits by opposing all laws they think might restrict sales, even if those laws save lives.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2013, Oregon’s firearm death rate (per 100,000 people) slightly exceeded the national average (11 versus 10.6).  Oregon’s gun ownership rate is below the national average.  Twenty-six percent of Oregon’s population owns at least one gun; the national average is about 33%.

While these state-wide statistics paint a fairly good picture for Oregon, when one looks at Oregon statistics by county, urban-rural differences appear.  Six rural Oregon counties, Baker, Coos, Union, Wallowa, Grant, and Curry, have the highest gun death rate in the state, averaging 17.4 per 100,000 people. Three Portland metro counties, Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas, average 8.43 gun deaths per 100,000.

When examined further, one sees that the gun suicide rate for the six rural counties is 14.4 per 100,000 twice the gun suicide rate of 6.5 for the three urban counties. The national rate for firearm suicide is 6.7 per 100,000.

The rate of gun homicide in the six rural counties is 2.23 per 100,000. The three urban counties’ gun homicide rate is 1.83.

This information suggests that gun violence in Oregon is not just an urban problem; it is a rural problem as well. Yet some sheriffs in rural counties refuse to enforce Oregon’s firearm background check law, and a few legislators refuse to support sensible measures designed to make all communities safer including their own.

Guns are big business in rural Oregon. According to a 2013 report published by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, retail sales from all hunting activities in Oregon in 2011 totaled $248,240,140 with a multiplier effect of $420,760,134. (Total Multiplier Effect is the total amount of spending that occurs in the economy as a result of hunters’ spending.)

After Sandy Hook, the National Rifle Association scapegoated the mentally ill but did not lift a finger or send one cent to help them. In fact, MarketWatch stated, “NRA membership dues skyrocketed by a staggering 62% in the year after Sandy Hook, from $108 million to $176 million. Total revenue in 2013 hit a third of a billion dollars. As a result, the massive organization saw profits — excuse me, ‘surpluses’ — rocket 2,750% to $57 million. Of course, that’s before taxes. But, then, it didn’t pay any taxes, for it is a nonprofit charity.”

In 2015 James Debney, CEO of Smith and Wesson told his shareholders and other investors, “Looking forward, we anticipate further sales and earnings growth in fiscal 2016 as we continue to position our company for long term success.”  

And, of course, the NRA’s lie that President Obama would ban guns was simply a marketing tool to drive up sales.

The gun industry fears the day their customers begin to understand that, like the tobacco lobby, the gun lobby lied for years about the safety of their products simply because it was good for the gun business.

The gun lobby fights every piece of common sense legislation and they make sure local legislators fall in line. Meanwhile, thousands of Oregonians have been killed or injured by gunfire even though effective laws could have prevented tragedy.

Let’s speak the truth:

  • Firearm-related deaths, both homicide and suicide, are clearly a problem for rural and urban Oregon.
  • Guns and gun-related sports bring revenue into rural Oregon.
  • No one should die simply because the gun lobby fears lost profits more than lost lives.

Legislation introduced into Oregon’s 2017 session can play a significant role in reducing gun death and injury throughout Oregon and respect the rights of responsible gun owners. In 2017, let’s put the lives of Oregonians first.