Guns and safety headlined a town hall Thursday with U.S. Rep Suzanne Bonamici at Astoria High School.
A small crowd turned out for the discussion, the congresswoman’s sixth this month during a spring tour of her district in Northwest Oregon. She started out thanking Astoria sophomores Isabel Talley and Kegan Rascoe, who handed her a stack of 78 signed form letters from students and staff calling for more federal funding to improve school safety.
The letters specifically called for federal money to provide better cameras, automatically locking doors and bulletproof glass for inner school doors.
On her congressional website, Bonamici mentions her support for reinstating the federal ban on military-style assault weapons that was in place from 1994 to 2004, pointing out their use in recent mass shootings. Beginning a back-and-forth with Bonamici, Ken Ellsworth of Warrenton asked how she defines assault weapons.
“I’m not myself defining assault weapons,” the Oregon Democrat said. “What I think we should do is look at the assault weapons ban that was in effect for 10 years and … figure out if that’s something that’s going to keep our community safe.”
Ellsworth took issue with the focus on a gun ban, saying rifles had been brought to schools before the phenomenon of mass shootings. He pointed to the presence of psychotropic drugs as a commonality among school shooters.
The causes of gun violence need to be figured out, Bonamici said, noting the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was recently given authority to do research. Asked later by another person whether there is momentum to bring back the assault weapons ban, Bonamici said there are conversations about reinstatement, albeit not in the same form.
“As the gentleman pointed out earlier, there are definitional challenges,” Bonamici said.
There appears to be progress toward restricting bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, while doing more research on gun violence. “Universal background checks would be a really good start,” she said.
Amy Baker, executive director of Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, commented on how mental health is not funded the same as medical, and on the need for community acceptance of people suffering with behavioral issues. Too much control lies with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is outdated and needs to be overhauled, she said.
Dr. Sangkun “Sonny” Park, an Astoria doctor, also commented on how there is no hospital locally for people dealing with mental health issues.
The move away from institutionalization to community-based care has been mostly good but not properly funded, Bonamici said, and communities need more options, especially in rural areas. She gave a shoutout to businesses like the Beaverton Bakery, honored by the White House in 2016 for hiring former drug court inmates to reduce recidivism, saying the community needs to help people in recovery overcome stigmas and return to the workforce.
Bonamici was asked what Congress is doing to help stem the opioid epidemic. There needs to be more evidence-based prevention programs and continued improvement in the battle against overprescription of opioid medications, she said.
“If you took the total number of opioids that were prescribed over the last year, everybody in the state — men, women and children — would have received 55 pills,” she said. “It’s on a downward trend as providers are educated about new practices.”
Ken Adams of Astoria commented on Bonamici’s support of citizenship for immigrants brought to America illegally as children but covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He called on Bonamici to support making the federal E-Verify system mandatory for all employers. The congresswoman said she is concerned about the use of E-Verify before comprehensive immigration reform.
Asked about how she would work collaboratively with Republicans, Bonamici noted she has always been in the minority in her six years in the U.S. House.
“I don’t care whose idea it is, if it’s a good idea,” she said, adding many of her colleagues, despite having different approaches, all care about things like the economy, education and the environment.