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Bend shooting brings gun issues to forefront in election

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Oregon Capital Bureau

The apparent attempted mass murder at a Safeway in Bend on Sunday cranked up the political heat on the already hot-button gun control debate in the 2022 election.

Police say Ethan Blair Miller, 20, killed two men Sunday evening at the Safeway supermarket near his apartment in east Bend. When police responded, they found the shooter dead inside the store, next to his military-style semi automatic rifle and shotgun. 

“While there is still much we don’t know, Oregon State Police are working with local authorities to respond to and investigate this tragic event,” Gov. Kate Brown said Monday.

Gun control has been a significant issue in the three-way race for governor, congressional campaigns, and legislative races. 

The November ballot also includes Measure 114, the “Reduction of Violence Act,” which would tighten background checks on weapons purchases and bar the sale of new magazines capable of carrying more than 10 bullets.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, issued a statement Monday calling for federal and state gun control measures.

“The Oregonians who went to shop or to work at the Bend shopping center where last night’s mass shooting happened need our thoughts and actions,” Wyden said. “America cannot just shrug its shoulders at another mass shooting with loved ones grieving the loss of family and friends.”

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, took to Twitter to call on Oregonians to not allow themselves to accept the frequent occurrence of attempts at mass violence using military-style weapons.

“This doesn’t have to happen,” Merkley said. “It’s not normal in any other country. High-powered assault rifles with high-capacity magazines, combined with personal grievances and often a culture of hate, create a toxic stew that leaves good people, innocent people dead, maimed, and traumatized.”

Oregon’s lone Republican in Congress, offered offer condolences from him and his wife to the victims.

“Heartbreaking and tragic,” U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, wrote on Twitter. “Please join Lindsay and I in praying for the victims and their families.”

Bentz, who represents nearly all of Oregon east of the Cascades, will no longer represent Bend and parts of northern Deschutes County following redistricting for the 2022 election. In January, the winner of the 5th Congressional District race will represent the area in Washington, D.C. 

Bentz has opposed gun control legislation in the U.S. House in the 2022 session. One bill would bar sales of semi-automatic weapons to those under 21 – a restriction that would have made it more difficult for the Bend shooter to get ahold of weapons. It would also restrict the sale and possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines.

The second bill would create a federal version of Oregon’s “red flag law” allowing family members or police to petition a judge that a person is imminently dangerous to others or might take their own life. The judge could then issue an order requiring the person’s firearms be temporarily removed from their possession, and bar any attempts to purchase new firearms or ammunition.

“Confiscating guns will not solve this problem,” Bentz wrote in an email to EO Media Group in June. “The rights protected by the Second Amendment are integral to American liberty.”

Bentz has called for stronger and more focused use of existing laws rather than expanding limits on firearms.

“Prosecute individuals who lie on their background checks, end (‘strawman’) firearm purchases, conduct more detailed background checks, enhance (within the law) the capabilities of law enforcement agencies gathering background information, and crack down on people selling firearms from their personal collection without a dealer’s permit,” Bentz wrote.

Bentz wrote that new legislation was an attempt to increase the highly polarizing debate over guns into a key midterm election that will decide whether Republicans will be able to take control of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

“Instead of politicizing the response, we should be actually enforcing our existing laws and addressing the mental health crisis that results in these terrible events,” Bentz wrote.

Former House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, the Democratic nominee for governor, has made gun control a centerpiece of her campaign.

“Last night, shoppers at the Eastside Safeway in Bend were terrorized by a man who opened fire with an AR-15 style weapon and two people were killed,” Kotek said in a statement released Monday. “My heart hurts for everyone affected by this. I will keep fighting to keep guns away from those who are likely to harm themselves or others.”

She’s focused on non-affiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic state senator from Columbia County. Johnson has opposed most new gun control legislation and has been targeted by Kotek for owning a legal, federally licensed fully automatic machine gun pistol. Johnson’s campaign told Rolling Stone magazine earlier this month that the gun is a MAC-10, known for extended ammunition magazines and its rate of fire that can top 1,000 rounds per minute.

Johnson has said she supports some gun control efforts, such as raising the minimum age to purchase semi automatic rifles from 18 to 21. But she said that Kotek was seeking to undermine “individual liberties.”

“I am a lifelong responsible gun owner and collector.” Johnson says on her campaign website. “As a state lawmaker for 20 years, I supported the rights of law-abiding gun owners and have defended the Second Amendment. Like most responsible gun owners, I believe that, in a society of increasing deadly gun violence by criminals, the mentally ill and disturbed kids, we must do more to keep guns away from people who should not have them.”

Drazan’s campaign touts her A rating from the Oregon Firearms Federation and the National Rifle Association. Her campaign website casts her as “a strong supporter of the Second Amendment who has always stood up to defend your gun rights.” 

If elected, Drazan said she will “veto any bill that compromises Oregonians’ Second Amendment rights.”

Additional reporting came from the Baker City Herald, a partner in the Oregon Capital Bureau.

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