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Oregon Gun Buyers Debate Stronger Mental Health Screenings


The gun show we're about to visit has been on the schedule for a while, but it was not supposed to have this backdrop. The gun show is taking place in Oregon, where last week a gunman killed nine people at Umqua Community College in the city of Roseburg. President Obama is asking Americans to think about how laws could be changed to prevent mass killings. And today at town hall meetings in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton will announce a series of gun control proposals that she'll be campaigning on. But in Oregon, some of the people at the gun show said this attack should not be used as a reason to pass more gun control legislation. Chris Lehman of the Northwest News Network reports.

CHRIS LEHMAN, BYLINE: There's a gun show three times a year at the county fairgrounds in Grants Pass, about an hour south of Roseburg along Interstate 5. The town is a lot like Roseburg. Both are rural logging communities where owning a gun is common. And the gun show is the place to be if you want a wide selection of firepower.

DALE RAMSEY: Actually, today I'm shopping for the wife.

LEHMAN: Dale Ramsey says that means something small with a bit of color.

RAMSEY: Because that's the hot item for the women now is pinks and purples and this and that's. And - but it's got to be the right gun for her.

LEHMAN: Ramsey says he's a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. He says restricting gun ownership isn't the way to prevent shootings like what happened in Roseburg. He says the more people who carry guns, the less likely someone can get away with mass murder.

RAMSEY: It might not have helped in this situation, but I think that it wouldn't have hurt if there had been armed people closer.

LEHMAN: Ramsey and several others I talked to said one way to reduce gun violence is to strengthen the nation's mental health system. Wayne Barnett is a lifelong gun enthusiast who says he was there just to browse. He says he supports stronger mental health screenings for people who want to buy a gun.

WAYNE BARNETT: But if you walk into a gun shop and you don't have a history of abusing guns or a criminal, you know, it's perfectly legal to buy it. And you can't look at a person and tell that, you know, they're mentally disturbed.

LEHMAN: Across the hall, gun dealer John Saliba had a different take. He doesn't want his hands tied when it comes to deciding who he can sell to.

JOHN SALIBA: If somebody comes to me and they seem very odd and they want to buy a gun, I'm not going to sell him a gun. My prices are very high when a person like that comes up.

LEHMAN: Earlier this year, Oregon lawmakers approved a bill that extends criminal background checks to private-party gun transactions. That requirement already applied to gun shows in Oregon, and there are plenty of those. The company that sponsored the show in Grants Pass is holding eight more shows in Oregon between now and the end of the year. For NPR News, I'm Chris Lehman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.