Since the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton nearly three weeks ago, Oregon Rep. Greg Walden has said little about whether he would support new federal legislation to tighten gun laws.
That could change next week when he holds five public hearings in his sprawling district, which covers eastern Oregon and a portion of southern Oregon. The veteran Republican lawmaker will meet constituents in Rufus, Arlington, Heppner, Burns and Tygh Valley.
Walden declined several requests for interviews with OPB. His communications director, Molly Jenkins, responded to written questions by releasing a statement from Walden in which he said he had supported several successful bills to improve access to mental health care.
However, Walden said nothing in his statement about whether he would back federal gun legislation. And he also didn't say why he voted against legislation passed by the House earlier this year that would expand background checks. He was silent on whether he would back "red flag" legislation that allows judges to take firearms from people at extreme risk of being a danger to themselves or others.
President Donald Trump and many Republicans in Congress opened the door to action on those bills in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings on Aug. 3 and 4. In the wake of the shootings that left 32 dead and 51 injured, Trump has sent conflicting signals on whether he wants stricter background checks.
In the past, Walden indicated a willingness to look at tightening gun laws.
After the early 2018 mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school, the congressman told OPB that it "makes some sense" to enact a national version of the red flag law that's already in effect in Oregon and 16 other states.
Oregon also has tighter background checks, and Walden said then that, "I think you're going to see us move in that direction federally, too."
In addition to sales by federal licensed dealers, Oregon requires checks on private gun sales and by unlicensed sellers at gun shows.
A year later, Walden voted against a bill that passed the House that was similar in scope to the Oregon law. Only eight Republicans voted for the measure, which Walden opposed.
A more limited bill in the Senate — sponsored by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Patrick Toomey — focuses on requiring background checks on all sales at gun shows. Back in 1999, Walden did vote for a bill similar in concept to the Manchin-Toomey bill.
In his statement, Walden said he voted for successful bills — which passed with broad bipartisan support — to improve federal funding for mental health care and that provided aid to schools and law enforcement to “identify threats and signs of violence, and [to] intervene early to prevent harm.”
He said he also backed successful legislation to improve the accuracy of information in the federal database used to run background checks.
“Americans should never have to fear for their life, especially when they are innocently going about their daily routine,” Walden said in the statement. “It’s important we take steps to get to the root of these senseless crimes.”
Here are the times and locations of Walden’s town hall meetings:
- Rufus: Bob's Texas T-Bone, 9 a.m. Wednesday.
- Arlington: Arlington Fire Hall, 11:15 a.m. Wednesday.
- Heppner: City Hall, 2:15 p.m. Wednesday.
- Burns: Harney County Chamber of Commerce, 11 a.m. Thursday.
- Tygh Valley: Tygh School Community Center, 9:30 a.m. Friday.