Mayor Charlie Hales says we can improve gun control even with the Second Amendment.
Just like he's been hinting since taking office in the wake of two nation-shaking mass shootouts, Mayor Charlie Hales this morning said "common sense gun regulation" will join his list of priorities—making him the second Portland mayor in a row to wrestle with the politically contentious issue.

Hales, picking the first day of this year's legislative session and the one-month mark since the massacre in Sandy Hook Elementary for his big reveal, announced he's joined the national advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. And he laid out three basic requests he says he'll be lobbying Salem and Washington DC to deliver:

• Banning the sale, if not yet the possession, of high-powered, military-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition charges.

• Making gun trafficking a federal crime.

• Requiring background checks for all gun sales.

"Those are some common-sense changes we can make, even with the Second Amendment," Hales said, exhorting everyone to remain "angry" about the deaths in Newtown and at Clackamas Town Center. "Those are things we can do and should do."

But the serious-toned event, which offered little more details than a press release sent out the night before announcing it, quickly got a little awkward. Conservative talker Lars Larson, holding a pro-gun, Starbucks-styled coffee thermos, got off the first question and then several more. And Hales, at times, took the bait.

In which Lars Larson, in front of Chief Mike Reese, agrees to disagree with Mayor Charlie Hales (not shown).
  • In which Lars Larson, in front of Chief Mike Reese, agrees to disagree with Mayor Charlie Hales (not shown).
Larson tried to press the point that the AR-15 rifles used in last month's mass shootings wouldn't be covered by the assault ban Hales wants, arguing they're hunting weapons. He pushed on whether the mayor wants government agents to come out "confiscate" guns and ammo. (Hales is "open" to a possession ban, but wants to start with sales.) And twice Larson forced Hales into rhetorical stumbles.

In one, Hales was inveighing that he has "yet to find a teacher who thinks it's a good idea" to arm up to defend a classroom. ("Really?" Hales said.) Larson quibbled, comparing the idea to arming pilots. Hales tried to blow him off by asking if he, in fact, did know any teachers. And Larson was ready with "I know a 1,000"—because there's a petition that some crazy teachers have signed.

But the other one was probably more vexing for Hales and maybe revealing of the somewhat mushy nature of a mayor of a city holding a press conference about an issue that's largely in the hands of powerbrokers dozens, and thousands, of miles away.

Larson was talking about licensing and registering owners, a dog-whistle issue for the gun crowd, and Hales replied that he thought it was already the law here. Larson protested, but when Hales asked Police Chief Mike Reese to step in, hoping his voice would silence Larson's, Reese essentially said the radio host was correct. Hales eventually said it was up to lawmakers to "sweat the details."

(Leaving the event, Larson bet me none of the TV or newspaper reporters would mention the exchange. Confidential to Lars: Where can I pick up my winnings?)

It should be noted that Hales perfectly understands the limits of local gun control power. He said former Mayor Sam Adams' gun control ordinances did most of "what's possible" with the city's "limited bandwidth." Hales expressed his deep frustration that the city was powerless to stop the two men who strutted around Sellwood last week with a pair of assault rifles—generating, Hales announced, 60 911 calls and a school lockdown.

"It's side effects were pretty obvious," Hales said of a stunt billed as a constitutional lesson.

The back-and-forth, maybe carried live by at least one station (unless it cut away after Hales stopped giving his prepared remarks), probably hurt the optics of an event Hales' team convened to make their boss look responsive and decisive and passionate.

But Hales' message, political opportunity or not, is still a solid one. We shouldn't stop talking about sane gun control. And we shouldn't give up or, as Hales put it, "simply surrender."

"I want the Congress and the Legislature to take up this subject," he said, "and not avoid it."