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Bill to strip campus law enforcement of firearms is ‘not moving’ in legislature

Police would have been restricted from carrying guns away from headquarters

A bill that would disarm campus police on public university campuses in the state of Oregon has apparently stalled in the state legislature.

The bill, HB 3338, would apply to campus police at public universities throughout the state.  It would specifically affect officers on campuses located in cities with more than 150,000 residents. Campus officers would be permitted to carry their firearms while in police headquarters, but not on the wider campus.

However, the bill has apparently hit a roadblock in the state legislator, with lawmakers seemingly tabling it for the remainder of the session, which lasts until the end of June.

Adriana Miranda, the chief of staff for one of the bill’s Democratic sponsors Rep. Diego Hernandez, told The College Fix via email: “This bill was a student led and oriented issue, unfortunately it is not moving this session.” Miranda did not respond to a request for clarification on what “not moving” means, or whether or not the bill will be addressed in the next session of the legislature.

Students, law enforcement argue both sides

A public hearing held on Thursday, Mar. 21 featured testimonies from numerous individuals, including students and campus police.

Among the first to speak was Hernandez, who posed the question to attendees: “Do we continue down the path of militarization of our public education system as a response to growing poverty, immense income inequality, gun violence and mass shootings?”

During his testimony, Hernandez also cited race as an underlying issue to the debate, calling African-Americans “overrepresented in police fatalities.” A list of United States police killings in 2015 and 2016, compiled by The Guardian, showed that, of 34 reported police-involved killings in Oregon, two were African-American, constituting around six percent of the victims. Blacks make up around two percent of the state’s population, according to the census bureau.

Attendees were permitted make two-minute-long statements about the proposed law. Numerous students, police officers and parents of students all offered comment about the legislation.

Several students voiced their concerns of both disarming and continuing to arm campus police. Some students claimed disarming campus police would decrease the likelihood of armed attacks. Other arguments focused on the accountability of law enforcement and the purported criminalization of marginalized communities.

Bill Yang, a freshman at the University of Oregon, said that students “act differently” around police officers.

“Why am I afraid that they’re going to abuse their power or that I’m going to end up shot?” Yang asked the committee.

Those in opposition of the bill came to the defense of campus police, stating that the police only use weapons when they deem it absolutely necessary.

“As a student who works with the police department, I get the unique opportunity to listen to the [police] radio each night at work. One night, there was a man walking onto campus with a machete. I heard UOPD head towards that man to handle the situation. Luckily, no force was needed,” said Rosa Merrill, a junior at the University of Oregon.

Donnell Tanksley, the chief of police at Portland State University, said he began his police career “because I wanted to see a change and be a part of that change for the betterment of all people.”

“The only logical, safe answer is to continue the service as an integrated part of the university as we have it today,” Tanksley said, arguing in favor of keeping police armed.

The bill comes several months after the death of Jason Washington, 45, a black man who was shot and killed by a Portland State University police officer after trying to break up a fight outside of the Cheerful Tortoise, a bar alongside Portland State’s campus. A grand jury elected not to indict the two officers involved in the shooting.

Campus police from the University of Oregon and Portland State University did not respond to requests for comment from The College Fix.

Bill co-sponsors Sen. Shemia Fagan and Rep. Susan McLain, both Democrats, declined to comment on the legislation.

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Thomas Curry -- Catholic University of America