When Portland high schooler Eliana Andrews helped organize the 2018 March For Our Lives in downtown Portland, she said many Oregon legislators approached her and her peers, eager to work with them to create new state gun laws.
But now that a concrete bill is in front of them, Andrews said, Oregon legislators aren't as interested in passing wide-reaching gun control legislation. In fact, they're keeping the bill from moving forward.
“Now that we brought something, they won’t support it,” she said, “and they won’t really talk to us about it, which is really disappointing.”
If passed, SB 501 would enact sweeping gun control reform in Oregon. Its stipulations include requiring people to have a permit before purchasing a gun, obliging gun owners to properly lock and store their weapons when not in use, and placing limits on how much ammunition someone can buy in a month, among others. Andrews said that each requirement in the bill was modeled after gun control legislation that passed elsewhere—Colorado was a particular source of inspiration—and designed to prevent mass shootings.
There’s just one problem: SB 501 isn’t going to get a hearing in the senate’s judiciary committee, meaning it likely won’t be voted on this session. That’s disappointing for the Portland area teens who researched and authored the bill with the straightforward goal of reducing gun violence in schools.
“I’m very distraught by that,” Finn Jacobson, one of the students who worked to craft and advocate for SB 501, told the Mercury. “It’s something I find very unfortunate, especially because this bill could save so many lives.”
Jacobson, a high school student in the North Clackamas School District, was also a student leader of last year’s March For Our Lives demonstration in Portland, in which about 10,000 people marched to show their support for increased gun control laws in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead.
SB 501 is one of over a dozen gun control bills proposed this legislative session, but it is the most comprehensive—and the most extreme, according to those who opposed it when it was introduced in January.
One of those opponents is Senator Floyd Prozanski, chair of Senate Judiciary Committee, who met with Students for Change in February.
“Last time we met with Prozanski, he called SB 501 'toxic' in front of us and 40 other kids who were there to support the bill and speak about how gun violence affected them,” Andrews said. “That really hurt us—it didn’t feel good for us.”
As committee chair Prozanski, is the only person who can schedule a public hearing for a bill heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And he's decided not to.
Prozanski told the Mercury that his choice to kill the bill stemmed from concerns he has with several of its requirements.
As a gun owner, he said, Prozanski takes issue with the limits on ammunition purchases, and the idea that someone should have to pass a background check to buy ammo. He also found it "unreasonable" to expect a gun owner to report their weapon lost or stolen within 24 hours, because they might be on a hunting trip in the wilderness and not have phone service. (Update, 3/19: Students For Change have pointed out that the bill requires gun owners to report their weapon missing within 24 hours of "means of reporting becoming available"—meaning they wouldn't be held responsible for not reporting it if they didn't have phone service.)
“Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone who had oversight or knowledge of different firearms” when crafting the bill, Prozanski said.
Two Lake Oswego legislators, Senator Rob Wagner and Representative Andrea Salinas, are co-sponsors of SB 501, but have played a relatively hands-off role in its promotion. According to Wagner, Students for Change took the leading role in writing and advocating for the legislation.
“I respect that fact that [Prozanski] has been working on this issue for the past 20 years,” Wagner said when asked how he felt about SB 501 not receiving a hearing. “Sometimes you don’t get a bill passed the first year.”
Both Wagner and Prozanski said the Senate Judiciary Committee will schedule hearings on other gun control legislation in coming weeks—but that package of bills will not be as far-reaching as SB 501.
The teens who crafted SB 501 aren’t optimistic about what might be passed this legislative session. They also aren’t feeling taken seriously by elected representatives who once promised support.
“We are feeling almost disrespected in this political process,” Jacobson said.
Andrews said she feels let down by the same politicians who were quick to contact her after last year’s March For Our Lives. Prozanski didn’t offer much constructive criticism during their February meeting, she said, and Wagner hasn’t actively pushed for the bill since introducing it in the legislature.
Prozanski told the Mercury that he did ask students to come up with a new proposal, but hasn’t heard back from them yet.
Update, 3/19: Andrews from Students For Change has responded to Prozanski's comments about SB 501:
"Our group just wanted to point out Prozanski... never asked [us] for a new proposal," Andrews told the Mercury. "The reasons he objected were the international interest, that there would be too many people who wanted to testify. He is lying."
Wagner said that regardless of what becomes of SB 501, he’s glad students had the opportunity to become involved with the legislative process.
“My hope,” Wagner said, “is that they will continue to stay engaged.”
Yet their experience in Salem didn't do much to encourage future engagement.
“It’s almost like we’re kids, and we’re being shooed away by the legislature," Jacobson said. "They want us to leave them alone, and that’s not something we’re willing to do, because we’re doing this for our safety.”