The hearing comes months after Adams first outlined his plans—following after several delays and a lengthy vetting process meant to answer legal challenges and head off controversy about civil liberties violations. Click here for a recap of the five proposals and other background.
Put simply, they would create a youth curfew for gun criminals, create three gun hotspot exclusion zones for gun convicts, add penalties for carrying a loaded gun in public, punish anyone who allows a child or minor to access a gun, and require gun owners to report promptly lost or stolen guns.
One wrinkle emerged early. Multnomah County Commissioner Judy Shiprack told Adams that county commissioners may not vote until January at the earliest on a plan to have a regional committee oversee the ordinances and report to the city. That oversight is a key answer to critics who worry about racial profiling.
Otherwise, the hearing started with a blitz of "drastic statistics" laid out by Adams' deputy chief of staff, Warren Jimenez and augmented by Police Chief Mike Reese. Gang calls in 2010 so far are 20 percent higher than the number for all of 2009, with that number more than twice what it was in 2001. They also showed slides showing that gun violence disproportionately affects Portlanders of color.
"I think we might have taken our eyes off the ball a little bit," Reese said. "And we're paying the price as a community."
Afterward, David Woboril of the city attorney's office took on the big elephant in the room: Whether state laws pre-empt Portland's effort to clamp down further on guns. The state, he says, cares only about sales, acquisition, transfer, possession, storage, transportation, and use.
"It's not the universe of everything that might have to do with firearms," he said. "It's limited."
Adams said, as he has before, that he not only expects, but also welcomes a legal challenge.
"It is time that this pre-emption be clarified," he said. "I expect that it will be challenged, and that will be useful."
After the cut, getting into the nitty-gritty and the details.
Kate Lieber, the mayor's public safety counsel, then weighed in and explained the proposals to commissioners. They noted the restrictions on letting guns access minors was inspired by a National Rifle Association pamphlet that puts safety on the shoulders of parents. Adams chimed in to note that the proposal on lost/stolen guns "has been enacted in other locales in other states."
She explained, regarding hotspots, that shooting calls, aggravated assaults with a gun, and gun-involved murders were used to map the worst areas in the city. Eight emerged, and the chief and his team then helped select the three worst. "The numbers probably justify more," Adams says. Four out of the eight have been "historic," two-decade-long problems, Lieber added.
"We're hoping that if they can't find each other, they can't shoot each other," Lieber says.
Lt. Dave Hendrie, a onetime gang enforcement officer, then took the microphone and said the new ordinances would make life easier for those pursuing his former line of work. He said officers know who the gun criminals are and that efforts involving the curfew and hotspots would be targeted, broad—another attempt to refute fears of profiling.
"This allows us to be preventative," he said, "to go there in those situations and remove them before we have another incident."
Nick Fish, however, asked a million-dollar question: What about displacement?
Hendrie acknowledged that will happen, inevitably. He noted "historical evidence that suggests these locations are the most violent areas of our city," but also said "as we see these areas shifting, we're willing to move around."
Keep coming for updates. Citizen comment is about to start, with 16 people signed up (and possibly more as the meeting grinds on).
So the first citizen who spoke, Lili Mandel, read a poem. How nice. But then things got interesting.
The aunt of a man who was killed in a gang shooting downtown this year, Andre Payton, quietly demanded more attention be placed on the trafficking of guns and said "penalties aren't high enough" in the current ordinance.
"How is that going to be added? What's in here that's going to stop that?" Teressa Raiford said. "That's where the problem is."
Adams answered that different options targeting sales had been considered, but that the city attorney's office ultimately rejected them.
She was followed by Garvin Franklin Jr., a former Crips member who works with a gang outreach group called BRO. He read off a long list of complaints, also asking why guns weren't focused on more heavily.
If the problem is citywide, he asked, "why are they narrowly focused on a specific demographic? That demographic is young black males.
"No doubt young people who aren't part of gangs will be targeted. Does this city really need this sweeping ordinance to target 20 to 30 minors? If drug zones and prostitution zones were ruled unconstitutional, we suspect the same will be true for the gun hotspots."
More criticisms followed. And a lot of solemn-faced "thank yous" from Adams. But hardly a peep from the gun-rights types.
A woman who works with parolees urged letting parole officers "have the discretion" to modify the exclusions. Others urged the city to do more to treat the root problems at the heart of gang violence: poverty, education, and a lack of opportunity.
Of exclusions and hotspots, "those are not tools I consider in the progressive toolbox," said Ross Elliot. "I don't want to see Portland going that way."
A few speakers later, Felicia Williams of the PDX Civil Rights Project told the council "I can see where this will be a social justice issue. We need to look at how these laws create racial disparities."
Then JoAnn Bowman, a former state legislator and police justice activist, aimed some harsh words at the ordinance. She said she wholly supported the provisions making gun owners more responsible, but that it "seems insane" to draft a citywide ordinance targeting a small number of young black men whom police, apparently, already know.
"Are you really going to tell me they know the black kids they're stopping?," asked Bowman. "I don't believe that mayor. I don't believe that."
The final speaker was another former gang member and current gang outreach worker, Michael Johnson, who called the proposal a great idea, despite it having a lot of "discrepancies." He praised the plan to have an oversight committee study the new laws as a means of tamping down any racial profiling. But he said he thought the hotspots would fail, mostly because they might shift around and because the community has yet to buy into the city's strategy.
"You're first line of defense is always going to be your community," he said. "Until that gets fixed or addressed you're still gong to have this disconnect and you're still going to have resistance within the community when you do any proposal."
He also said kids need jobs as much as a stern hand from the law: "If they don't have a purpose, they won't have a goal. And they will turn to other avenues to self-destruct."
To close the meeting, Adams offered lengthy remarks in defense of his proposals, and commissioners asked some clarification questions. Amanda Fritz specifically sought out more information on how punishment for carrying a loaded gun would affect minors. And she asked about the ACLU's suggestion that parole agents, not police, enforce any exclusions. The answer? Legal lines currently make it incredibly cumbersome, probably for good reason, for cops to enforce parole provisions.
Adams, however, pretty much had the last word. For now.
"The issue of racial profiling is one that is of very, very deep concern to myself and the city council," he said, noting the differences between the city's last two exclusion zones and the proposal for guns. This time, he said, only convictions and court adjudication would get someone excluded. Previously, any infraction would be grounds for a ban.
Adams also said, as he's told me before, that race is part of what's happening here. "It is gruesome, and we have to deal with this issue. People being murdered by guns are Portlanders of color." And, as for attacking root causes, "we need to do a better job, and we will. But that cannot be at the absence of proposals that can save lives and reduce injuries."