COOS BAY — The December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School shocked the nation and sent gun owners into a defensive position as state and federal lawmakers consider new restrictions.
Gun rights advocates plan to gather at 2 p.m. today on the Coos Bay Boardwalk to protest what they say is increasing government encroachment on their Second Amendment rights.
Christopher Ashford of Coos Bay is the founder of Coos County Gun Rights, and the primary organizer behind the rally.
Ashford said the possibility of a new ban of assault weapons — military-pattern semi-automatic firearms — is one of gun owners’ biggest fears.
“It’s one of the reasons why I don’t live in the state of California,” Ashford said.
In 1989, the California Legislature passed the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act, which banned several dozen semi-automatic firearms by name. In 1999, the state expanded the ban to include any semi-automatic firearm with a detachable magazine that had more than one designated feature.
Oregon has long taken a balanced approach to firearms ownership.
The state allows military-pattern semi-automatic firearms and ownership of National Firearms Act weapons, such as automatic firearms, short-barreled shotguns and silencers. It’s also a shall-issue state for concealed handgun licenses, meaning law enforcement officials are required to issue a license if they can’t find a legally disqualifying reason.
But Oregon also requires all sales at gun shows to go through the National Instant Check System, and is one of a few states that submit their mental health records to the national background check database.
According to U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the state’s gun owners have little reason to fear a new federal ban on military-pattern semi-automatic firearms. “It’s very unlikely to happen,” DeFazio said.
What is more probable is the expansion of the types of mental health records included in national databases. But DeFazio said it would be important to balance medical privacy issues with public safety when considering who to add to the database.
But the mere mention of new regulations makes many Coos County gun owners bristle.
“Any kind of further firearms regulation is not going to curb the real threat — the criminals — by virtue of them being criminals,” said Connie Martin, a Coos Bay firearms instructor.
Martin has been an NRA-certified handgun instructor for several years, and is one of the administrators of the Emerald Coast Defensive Shooters Association.
She said she became a gun owner after buildings on her mother’s property were repeatedly burglarized.
“I had no interest in shooting prior to my property being vandalized,” Martin said.
The rally’s backers aren’t all motivated solely by personal defense concerns, however.
Rob Taylor of Bandon sees the gun control debate as a bellwether for a broad range of libertarian policy issues.
Taylor is the founder of the Coos County Watchdog group, an organization best known for its opposition to the Bandon Marsh expansion.
“It’s not about gun rights — it’s about civil rights,” said Taylor. “The biggest minority out there is the individual.”
Reporter Thomas Moriarty can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty.