City council to discuss requiring guns in homes
By SUSAN TOM - Statesman Journal
Though the proposed ordinance has exemptions, it is seen as a crime deterrent.
AUMSVILLE, Oregon - The right to bear arms would become a requirement in this south Marion County city, if a former Aumsville city councilor and parks director gets his way.
Tim Dunn, a ponytailed grandfather who has lived in Aumsville for more than five years, is proposing an ordinance that would require the head of every household to keep a firearm in the house and to use it for protection.
Dunn points to the success of more than two dozen similar laws around the country in reducing crime. He said the ordinance would be akin to a "Beware of Dog" sign for criminals.
"This is not about guns," he said. "It's about the right to self-defense in lieu of not being able to have 24-hour police protection."
The Aumsville City Council will consider the proposed ordinance tonight at its regular meeting.
If passed, up to 1,024 households - the number of residential units within city limits, according to Census 2000 figures - would be expected to have at least one firearm in the house. There are 3,045 residents currently living in 961 housing units.
It's unclear whether the council will embrace or reject the idea. Mayor Harold White, for one, said he has an opinion but didn't want to share it in advance.
David Drews, Aumsville council president, said he doesn't know if such an ordinance is necessary. He's worried that the proposal could lead to gun-related accidents because some residents may not know how to use or store firearms properly.
"I don't know how I will vote Monday," Drews said. "It's a tossup."
Dunn proposed the ordinance as a response to reductions in public safety services last year. Voters rejected a levy that would have kept the city's police force and hours intact.
"My reason for this is my concern for the community I reside in," said Dunn, 47, an information system specialist for the state. "It's no different than my effort to get a skate park put in."
Part of Dunn's motivation goes back a decade, when he was the victim of a robbery in Portland. He went out and purchased his first firearm afterward. Over the years, he got more involved with Second Amendment issues because of what he perceived to be distortion of facts by gun control advocates.
No crime wave yet
Recent history does not suggest the need for any extra defense in Aumsville.
Although crime was expected to rise after the city reduced its police force from five to four officers and scaled back its 24-hour protection about a year ago, there has not been a significant increase in criminal activity, said Aumsville Police Chief Michael Andall.
Data for the last 30 months show a drop in the most serious crimes.
Even if passed, the ordinance has a very limited reach. It includes no provision for enforcement and no consequences for people who refuse to arm themselves.
And Dunn said his proposal has many exemptions, including ones for residents who object on religious or moral grounds, suffer from some disability, are prohibited by state or federal law from having a firearm, or cannot afford to comply.
Gun lobby is pleased
John Hellen, administrator for Oregon Gun Owners, said the ordinance reaffirms the right of Americans to own and use firearms.
"We definitely support it as long as there are the exemptions in there because it's voluntary," Hellen said. "It's a positive message that firearms definitely are used for self-protection."
Though Oregon has long been a stronghold for firearm ownership - about 50 percent of households have guns - Hellen said he does not know of any Oregon city or county that has enacted a mandate.
One place that has dabbled with the idea is Coos County. Former Sheriff Mike Cook, who pitched the idea to Coos County commissioners last July, was told to bring back a revised proposal as a proclamation instead of an ordinance.
Coos County Commissioner John Griffith said he supports the general concept but said the original proposal contained some unconstitutional elements and needed to be revised.
Idea from Georgia
The idea of requiring citizens to keep a firearm at home took root in 1982. Kennesaw, Georgia, passed the first local ordinance in response to a gun control law enacted in another city. The crime rate dropped, and the city still maintains that low rate today after nearly 20 years.
The American Civil Liberties Union unsuccessfully challenged the Kennesaw law.
Although there's no cost involved and no teeth to the Aumsville proposal, the idea is still a lightning rod for debates between gun control advocates and Second Amendment supporters. Other townspeople have mixed feelings.
Ed Santibanez is an Aumsville retiree who wouldn't think twice about using his guns to protect himself and his family. He supports the right to own firearms and acknowledges that the net effect of the ordinance would be to reaffirm the Second Amendment.
But he's still not sure it's the right solution.
"It should be up to each individual whether they want to have (a firearm)," said Santibanez, 62.
Theresa Voorhis, an Aumsville mom of three teens, said she can see both sides. She worries about the message the ordinance might send children and the potential for accidents in single-parent households with young children and inadequate firearm education and training.
But if it came down to a vote, she said she would support the ordinance.
"No one would approach a house knowing that the people had a gun and were willing to use it," said Voorhis, who owns firearms. "I can definitely say that if criminals knew our town had that kind of ordinance, it would be a deterrent."
Susan Tom can be reached at (503) 399-6744.