Changing the Conversation: Guns and Sheriffs‏

Oregon recently made international headlines as our Sheriffs one-by-one began signing onto a letter to Vice President Biden stating they would refuse to uphold any Federal legislation that addressed gun control.

As soon as the Crook County Sheriff signed on, the Human Dignity Advocates set up a meeting and talked through the need for creating genuine community dialog.  They came to some shared conclusions, including recognition of the dire need for greater mental health services and funding. Human Dignity Advocates followed up by asking the sheriff to issue another letter sharing some of these points. Check out an excerpt of the follow-up letter they wrote below:

Thank you for taking the time on Tuesday to meet with us to discuss the issue of gun violence.  As we explained in our meeting, it is the desire of the Human Dignity Advocates (HDA) to moderate the dialog in our community so that the far left and far right extremes do not capture and distort sensible solutions.

We believe our meeting with you established that we agree on several points:
1) Our support of the Second Amendment as well as the entire Bill of Rights and the Constitution.
2) Our desire to take action to reduce tragedies caused by gun violence in our country.
3) The recognition of the dire need for greater mental health services and funding.
4) That current gun laws should be enforced.
5) That private gun sales should require background checks.
6) That the solutions to reducing gun violence are multi-faceted.

As we discussed, the members of HDA wanted to have this meeting with you because of the letter you, as Sheriff of Crook County, wrote to Vice President Biden earlier this month, a letter which has received a great deal of public attention.  It is clear from the stream of letters to the editor in our local papers and the ongoing and numerous postings on Facebook, that this letter aroused both support and alarm throughout the state.  You have only to read those opinions to see that your letter causes people to take sides against one another rather than finding common ground and relying on one another to find solutions.  When people feel offended or defensive, the result is anger not cooperation.

As a public official, you have it in your power to be a voice for reason, and we appreciate that you are willing to be that voice.  We look forward to reading your clarifying letter, a letter acknowledging that the majority of citizens in our county support sensible solutions that will address the rights of all people to live in a community that is safe and well regulated.  And that you, as County Sheriff, understand that it is your duty to uphold and enforce all laws, local, state and federal.

To learn more about HDA’s conversation with their sheriff drop me an email at and I’ll connect you directly.

Recently, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney also asserted that the undiscussed underlying issue is access to mental health care.  Read more below from Mike Edera, longtime ROP leader with West County Council for Human Dignity and ROP, on the issue.

What if all of our Sheriffs endorsed Senator Courtney’s proposal?

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Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney proposed a major increase in state funding for mental health programs. “It’s game changing time,” Courtney told reporters, according to the front-page article in the Oregonian (Feb 7):

He said he’s tired of all the talk about mental health, especially in the raging debate over gun control, and wants to see some action by state lawmakers.

“You want to do something? Let’s do it,” he said, his voice quavering at times…

‘He said the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the ensuing polarization over guns and mental health provoked him to stepping up…
Senate Republicans, who generally oppose more gun control, approached Courtney over the past month, hoping to stoke a conversation about mental health…’

Courtney is proposing to increase funding for crisis intervention to $285 million over two years, along with spending $46 million to serve children and young adults. Courtney is calling for a new dedicated revenue source for these programs.

If this proposal gets traction it could present a third option in the polarized debate about gun control at the legislature. Gun control advocates are proposing a ban on high capacity gun magazines. However, there are already tens of thousands of high capacity magazines circulating in the state, and literally millions nationwide. It is hard to imagine how this proposal would have any concrete effect on gun violence, even under the assumptions of gun control supporters. On the other hand, gun rights advocates have been framing the issue as an attack on the Second Amendment, despite the fact that the great majority of the population views the situation as a crisis in public safety.

Courtney’s proposal offers the chance for a bipartisan initiative to directly benefit the lives of thousands of Oregonians, while increasing public safety in a very measurable way. It also potentially sidesteps the us vs. them confrontation over the magazine capacity ban.

Can Courtney and mental health advocates work a deal with Oregon Republicans to pass full funding for mental health care in exchange for sidelining the high capacity magazine ban? It would require major adjustments to entrenched political positions on all sides, but the beneficiaries would be thousands of people in urgent need to mental health care, their families, and public safety in general.

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