GRANTS PASS, Ore.—
Everytown for Gun Safety, a leading gun control group backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, is campaigning to require those wishing to buy a gun to go through universal background checks. Currently, their efforts are specifically focused on Oregon.
Everytown backed a voter-approved initiative in Washington last year making the state the 17th to expand background checks past the federal law requiring a background check by licensed gun dealers.
“This is our top priority,” Erika Soto Lamb, the group’s spokeswoman, said.
The group spent millions of dollars on political operations. In Oregon, the state legislature narrowly failed to pass legislation two years running to require background checks for private gun sales. According to state records, Everytown spent nearly $600,000 on the 2014 election — $450,000 in contributions to candidates and committees, and $110,000 on other grassroots efforts.
Part of that money was devoted to strengthening the Democratic majority in the state Senate. The party now holds a stronger majority by two seats to 18-12 in the Senate. Gov. John Kitzhaber is a longtime supporter of and is expected to sign the bill if it passes.
“There’s a loophole there that can be closed,” Lamb said.
In 2000, Oregon voters extended background checks to require them for sales at gun shows the new bill would require anyone selling a gun privately to call state police for a background check on the buyer’s criminal history and mental illness. Guns sold to family members, antique guns, and inherited guns would be excluded from the new law.
“I want to put closure on the only loophole we have on the background check law,” said Prozanksi, a native Texan who owns a few guns. “Most all of us gun owners, as well as the general public, believe we should take reasonable steps to stop felons from getting easy access to guns. This will do that.”
Opponents include Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose and the National Rifle Association.
“The NRA is not privy to the specifics of the legislation, but Oregonians should not be fooled by the rhetoric from out of state gun control groups funded by New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg,” NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said. “They are pushing an extreme anti-gun agenda that seeks to curtail Oregonians’ constitutional right to self-defense.”
Under federal law, background checks are required for sales by licensed gun dealers, but not at gun shows or private transactions. The checks search for convicted felons, people under indictment, the mentally ill, drug users, people under restraining orders, dishonorably discharged veterans, and people in the country illegally.
Johnson believes the many shootings Oregon has experienced could have been stopped by background checks.
“It puts law abiding citizens at a significant disadvantage,” she said. “And it does not touch the problem, which in most cases involves severely mentally ill, disaffected, alienated young people causing mayhem.”
Prozanski hopes that, with the increased number of Democrats favoring gun control in the Senate, he can overcome Johnson’s opposition.
Once regarded as “militant” and “radical,” the Oregon Firearms Federation (OFF), a gun rights organization, is now regarded by even its strongest opponents as “a force to be reckoned with.”
OFF, founded in 1998, is an organization dedicated to fighting for the rights and freedoms of gun owners.
The primary founder and current director of the organization, Kevin Starrett, said the idea for OFF was born while he was working for Gun Owners of America (GOA). GOA was eager to see independent state organizations that would be able to respond better to state issues.
Starrett felt that other gun rights organizations were more concerned with “making deals” than maintaining citizens’ rights. He also noticed a tendency of believing that “because they were invited to politicians’ parties, they must be accomplishing something.” This bothered Starrett for some time, and finally, in 1998, the idea of beginning an organization to advocate for freedom became practical for him.
Starrett founded OFF with two others to create a board of directors. He then went right to work and never looked back, amassing a remarkable track record in the process.
His philosophy is simple; he believes “rights are from the Creator, people need means to protect these rights. They need to take responsibility for their actions so they can live free.”
OFF’s primary roles include tracking legislation from both the Oregon state legislature in Salem and the U.S. Congress in Washington, DC; drafting legislation that will maintain or increase freedoms for gun owners; alerting OFF members about potential problem legislation and sending them updates; rating candidates; and keeping track of who’s supporting what and how to contact them.
Starrett said the hardest part of the job is rating candidates.
“Many of the sitting legislators have never had opportunities to vote on bad bills [because OFF has defeated them], so we don’t have voting records for them,” he said. OFF depends on “honesty on our surveys” when evaluating those who have never been in office before. “We have no way to know how strong they’ll be or if they’ll fold under pressure,” Starrett said. “Someone might vote right for the wrong reasons.”
Identifying key opponents and supporters of pro- and anti-gun legislation has been crucial to OFF’s success, Starrett said.
From the beginning, OFF’s goal has been to hold the legislature accountable, even when doing so caused his organization to be labeled “militant,” “dangerous rabble,” and “radical.”
At first, Starrett said, legislators were warned by their parties to “have nothing to do with [OFF].” But when OFF began to “defeat virtually every anti-gun bill, they were forced to take [OFF] seriously.”
The organization has a very high track record of success. “Nearly every bad bill” — bills both in the Oregon legislature and Congress that would have restricted the rights and freedoms of gun owners — has been defeated, including many whose passage supporters believed to be “a sure thing.” Many bills in support of gun rights that supposedly had “no way” to pass, did when OFF backed them.
Legislators now ask OFF for endorsements and often work with the organization to write legislation.
An Oregon politician invited to speak at a meeting said that when he was first running, he got a survey from OFF. The politician had never heard of them, but as he read about the organization and thought about the issues presented, he realized he agreed with their positions. He ultimately asked them for endorsement.
Current opponents complain that OFF “is a tiny minority that wins all the time.” Starrett said supporters of gun rights are not in the minority, nor do they fit the stereotype of being “violent, all men, hillbillies, ignorant, or wanting to harm others.”
In fact, according to his statistics, they are more likely to be college educated than non-gun owners. Gun owners often “protect others and contribute to safety,” as was the case in a tragic local shooting.
On one occasion, Starrett and many other gun rights supporters gathered in a rally at the Oregon Capitol. “Thousands of supporters carried guns at the rally,” he said. “We were told by the few anti-gun activists that showed up that it was a display of aggression and they felt threatened. They were treated so politely [by us] that it completely belied their ideas.”
Starrett said even the organization’s strongest opponents “agree in candid moments that [OFF] is extremely well-organized and active.” Many legislators back down and take their names off anti-gun legislation, “begging [OFF] to leave them alone,” after being contacted by OFF and its members.
One of the most rewarding parts of Starrett’s job is hearing feedback from grateful supporters. He said he and OFF have worked very hard to maintain the organization’s original purpose and to do things in such a way that “no one questions our motives or ethics.”
OFF frequently hears from members saying “thank you for what you’re doing.” Once, grateful supporters took four OFF volunteers on “an expensive fishing trip to say thanks!”
Starrett is both humbled and honored by the reports. “Not many things [someone could do] get sincere gratitude,” he said.
For more information, or to make a donation, visit: http://www.oregonfirearms.org