ashland.news
June 21, 2024

Guns hot topic at Wyden town hall in Phoenix

Sen. Ron Wyden held his 1,049th town hall since taking office in 1996, Friday at Phoenix High School. Rogue Valley Times photo by Jamie Lusch
April 7, 2023

Senator wrapped up seven-county swing with Friday stop in Jackson County

By Morgan Rothborne, Rogue Valley Times

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden took questions on numerous topics Friday during a town hall at Phoenix High School, but the majority of questions focused on gun control and school shootings.

Wyden walked in the doors of the high school’s Rose Street Theater with three boxes of Puck’s doughnuts.

“I’m here with Puck’s to show that once and for all, Phoenix and Talent are coming back,” said Wyden, D-Oregon.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden brought Puck’s Donuts to his town hall meeting at Phoenix High School Friday. Rogue Valley Times photo by Jamie Lusch

The senator opened with remarks underlining the increasing risk of wildfire. But once residents began to ask questions, the focus turned to safety concerns.

“Quite simply, I’d like your thoughts on getting assault weapons under control in this country,” said an elderly man in the front row who declined to give his name. He could barely finish his sentence before his voice was overwhelmed by cheers and clapping from the audience.

“In the Senate, there are people who think that the problem is mostly guns. And then there are people who think the problem is mostly mental health. I’m part of a group that thinks we’ve got to make changes in both areas,” Wyden said.

He underlined that as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he was able to push for mental health services to be included in a gun safety bill in the previous Congress. This session, he said, he wanted to focus on “the big insurance companies” for failing to offer both mental and physical health services.

“Clearly, there are some people who should not have guns. Terrorists, domestic violence perpetrators. I don’t think it’s the Second Amendment that those people ought to have guns,” he said. “I don’t think it’s Democratic or Republican. I think there needs to be restrictions on military-style assault weapons.”

A young woman who identified herself as a mom with a 6-year-old in the Phoenix-Talent School District said she worries every time she brings her child to school. She waits outside until all the children and teachers go inside and the doors are locked. She urged Wyden to focus on gun violence and school safety.

Phoenix-Talent School District Superintendent Brent Barry greets Sen. Ron Wyden Friday. Rogue Valley Times photo by Jamie Lusch

Wyden promised he would keep working on the issue, comparing it to his years-long push against Big Pharma to lower the cost of prescription medication.

“Needless to say, you and I sit on the opposite side of a lot of issues,” said a man who introduced himself as Charlie Allen, a precinct committee person for the Republican Party in Jackson County. “I would like to ask a rhetorical question to you and to those in the audience who have said, ‘I fear sending my child to school because they might not come home because of a school shooting.’

“When you make that statement, have you also thought, ‘I’m afraid to send my child to school because they might die in a car accident?’”

Wyden had to stifle grumbling and interjections from the audience twice while Allen offered his opinion.

“Let’s respect every single person. That is the Oregon way,” he said.

Car accidents and school shootings aren’t mutually exclusive as risks to children, the senator responded. Those allowed to drive a car are under scrutiny for fitness to drive, much like gun owners are subjected to background checks.

“You’re shaking your head — this bill isn’t passing tomorrow,” he said, underlining future opportunities for bipartisan compromise.

“Get me an email or a phone number. I’d be happy to stay in touch with you,” Wyden told Allen.

Students and residents also asked about taxes, support for higher education, Oregon’s lack of diversity, support for rural fire departments and the prevalence of illegal drug use.

After he had delivered his closing remarks and posed for photos with attendees, Wyden smiled to say he had just completed town halls in seven counties he described as “bright red” without once discussing former President Donald Trump.

At the close of his 1,049th town hall since taking office in 1996, he said he felt one important issue had been left largely unexplored. 

“I was surprised broadband for rural communities didn’t come up,” he said.

Earlier that day, Wyden said he and his staff drove around rural Jackson County to gain a better understanding of on-the-ground conditions as he works to extend connectivity to areas he described as “barely beyond dial-up.”

Reach reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rv-times.com. This story first appeared in the Rogue Valley Times.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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