SALEM — Gun-control advocates had hoped last month’s mass shooting in Roseburg, the worst in Oregon’s history, would help them build on new background-check legislation.

“People in Oregon are angry,” said Penny Okamoto, director of gun-control group Ceasefire Oregon. “I still have people calling me asking what they can do.”

But neither Gov. Kate Brown nor legislative leaders appear ready to champion any significant gun-related measures in February’s short legislative session.

In part, they’re hoping for some calm after battling Republicans and gun-rights advocates to pass a bill requiring background checks for private gun sales in the 2015 session. (A separate bill banning people with domestic violence convictions or restraining orders from possessing guns passed with bipartisan support.)

And in an election year, and with just 35 days to pass bills in 2016, they’re girding for other fights, such as finding a compromise on increasing the minimum wage.

Other answers to Roseburg may still emerge, they say.

A task force on K-12 school safety is set to release its findings next week, said Kristen Grainger, Brown’s spokeswoman.  Also next week, the governor will convene college and university presidents to possibly produce recommendations for campuses across the state, Grainger said. That work may not be ready until 2017.

Grainger declined to comment when asked whether Brown could take other actions on guns without legislation. Others, however, say the governor lacks power in a system with independently elected sheriffs and district attorneys.

“She’s got a big megaphone,” said Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University. “But the power to compel or require action is very limited.” 

Other ideas will be conversation-starters ahead of the 2017 session, such as a plan by Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, to help police more quickly remove guns from someone in crisis.

“If you see somebody with a fetish for guns on social media saying they’ll shoot up a school, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to take some decisive action?” asked Burdick, one of the Legislature’s most vocal gun-safety proponents.

But she argued that the state’s short, even-year sessions, which voters approved in 2010, weren’t meant for passing sweeping new proposals.

“It’s a 35-day session,” she said, “and there are a lot of very complex issues.” 

Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, said that sounds about right.

Even in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 1 shooting at Umpqua Community College, he said, “I didn’t really expect any legislation in 2016. The national debate has turned to background checks. And we’ve got that.” 

Ferrioli quietly helped tighten Oregon’s gun rules in 2014, pushing the Oregon State Police to investigate failed background checks from would-be gun purchasers, leading to dozens of cases sent to local police or prosecutors.

He sees another solution in the tens of millions of dollars Oregon has spent on its long-starved mental health system in recent years, which he called “just an installment on a long past overdue bill.”

“I’m suggesting that rather than additional legislation aimed at gun ownership, I think there’s never been a better time for the advocates for mental health funding to step forward,” he said.

Okamoto, the Ceasefire Oregon director, said she hasn’t had anything more than “informal conversations” with lawmakers or Brown’s staff so far. She’s hoping to persuade them to pass two new proposals: penalties for people who leave their guns unsecured, and a 10-year ban on gun ownership for anyone with multiple misdemeanor convictions involving violence or substance abuse.

“Democrats are going to get a rude wakeup call” if they don’t act, she said. “The shootings don’t end. And the people of Oregon don’t care about the election cycle.” 

That threat may not be idle. Gun rights have played an increasingly prominent role in Oregon politics.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a national group funded by billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, helped expand Democrats’ legislative majorities last year. The group was also ready to help four lawmakers who briefly faced recall attempts this year over their support for expanded background checks.

And yet, noted Moore, the Pacific University professor, Democrats shifting into campaign mode before next year’s election still “see this as an issue that can bring a strong opponent in an election.”

That could affect 2017 as much as 2016.

“It’s something I don’t think they want to take a risk on,” Moore said.

— Denis C. Theriault

503-221-8430; @TheriaultPDX

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