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Gun bill is feel-good but ineffective

Gun control issues returned to the forefront of the Oregon Legislature last week, with a three-hour hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Senate Bill 1551, which would expand background checks in Oregon to include private party gun sales.

Supporters of the bill, including Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the author of the bill and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, argue that the bill would close one of the final loopholes in Oregon's gun control laws.

The hearing featured plenty of passionate arguments on both sides — but it seems unlikely that the arguments changed any minds. A similar bill was introduced in the 2013 session, but it failed to pass out of the Judiciary Committee.

Speakers favoring the bill at last week's hearing included Mark Kelly, the husband of former Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was gravely injured in a 2011 shooting.

"When dangerous people get guns, we are all vulnerable," Kelly said. He said he and his wife, both longtime gun owners, believe in "keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them."

It's hard to argue with that.

The problem, however, is that chances are slim that Senate Bill 1551 would do anything to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them.

Even supporters of the bill admit that criminals and dangerous people still would find ways to get guns. And, for that reason, the measure would be ineffective at stopping the random shootings that inspired the bill.

In fact, the only people who really would be hassled by the bill would be law-abiding gun owners. They'd find a way to deal with the inconvenience, but why should they do that in service of a bill that won't deliver any real results?

Part of the reason why gun control measures got so little traction during the 2013 session is that legislative leaders and Gov. John Kitzhaber, from the earliest days of the session, showed virtually no appetite for tackling such divisive issues. Some of that has changed over the last year — Kitzhaber, for example, testified in favor of the bill last week — but we're still not sensing any enthusiasm from the Legislature to get entangled in this issue during this 35-day session.

The Legislature should follow the example it set during its 2013 session by ignoring this feel-good but ineffective gun control bill. If legislators want to do some real good, they could follow a suggestion from Albany Sen. Betsy Close and focus on improving mental health care in Oregon — an effort that's considerably more difficult but which could result in some real progress in solving the issues that Senate Bill 1551 purports to address.