Last week, the Oregon Senate voted in favor of Senate Bill 554, a bill that would, if passed, allow state and local governments to ban firearms in public buildings for those with a concealed carry permit. The bill was set to go before the Oregon House on March 29—but due to more cases of COVID-19 in the state legislature, that and other business in the Capitol was on hold as of press time. Not only would the bill allow local governments to ban firearms in public buildings such as airports and courthouses, schools, city halls and hospitals, but it would also ban stun guns, knives and “mace, tear gas, pepper mace or any similar deleterious agent,” according to the language of the bill.
As you might imagine, a bill like this gets people on both sides of the political aisle very excited. Our own state senator, Sen. Tim Knopp (R-Bend), called the bill out as the example of the urban-rural divide. He, along with four other senators, declared potential conflicts of interest due to being concealed-carry holders—but voted anyway. Knopp voted against.
Since the bill, if passed by the Oregon House, would ultimately leave it up to local governments to decide whether to implement it, it’s easy to imagine that it would be ushered in handily in places such as Portland, where voters lean decidedly blue, and would be rejected in places that trend red, such as most of the counties of eastern Oregon—some of which are still working to leave blue Oregon for red Idaho. It is fair for Knopp to characterize this as an “urban-rural divide” issue—but that begs the question, where does that leave Bend and Central Oregon, where voter trends don’t fall neatly into one box or another?
As we noted following the last election in November, Bend has been a decidedly “purple” city for some time, but trended toward the Democratic side in its voter rolls as the election neared. As of March 1—the most recent reporting of voter rolls in our area—Knopp’s Senate District 27 included 40,131 Democrats, 33,507 Republicans and 38,404 unaffiliated voters. Voters in the City of Bend trend similarly, with 27,497 Democratic voters, 16,757 Republicans and 23,092 unaffiliated voters. Redmond voters totaled 5,463 Democrats, 7,996 Republicans and 8,122 unaffiliated voters. These voter trends show that we cannot put our region into one tidy voting bloc.
What does this all mean? It means that as we think about a bill that has, as of the time this issue went to press, yet to pass the House (but likely will, due to the Democratic supermajority in the state legislature), those who are passionate about this issue should be looking not to whether the bill will pass in Salem (it likely will), but instead, what will we do when this issue becomes our own to decide upon? Will our majority-progressive Bend City Council take this up? What about the Deschutes County Board of Commissioners, or our local school districts and colleges—which each will be empowered to take this up or leave it alone?
While some will get excited or nervous or angry about this bill’s passage in the Oregon State Legislative Assembly, perhaps the more salient place to put that energy right now is into our local governments, which ultimately will have to decide whether this hot-button, urban-rural-divide issue is one worth taking up in our very purple region.