Bill draws support, opposition at hearing

A bill that creates an extra avenue for pursuing injury lawsuits resulting from shooting at a Polk County quarry drew supporters and detractors at a public hearing at the Capitol Tuesday, April 4. 

The bill was moved to the floor by members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary Tuesday, April 9. Sen. Kim Thatcher and Rep. Bill Post are sponsoring the legislation. 

In testimony, Mayor Cathy Clark said the bill was necessary because of jurisdictional boundaries. 

“We have crafted legislation that would allow us to work more proactively to protect the life and safety of our residents,” she said.

Eppley said the matter was not one of gun rights, but “providing us as a government the ability to ensure the rights of our citizens to enjoy their life, liberty and property from people irresponsibly discharging guns.”

The original language of the bill would have held municipal and county governments liable for inaction when bullets strayed from the quarry where recreational shooting has occurred for years, but amendments filed after the public hearing narrowed the scope to just property owners, operators, lessees and those discharging the firearms. 

Even one gun rights supporter turned out in favor of the bill. 

“Soft granite absorbs the round, but in cases where we have hard rock quarries those bullets are ricocheting everywhere,” said Jack Esp, a one-time candidate for the state House of Representatives. “Common sense doesn’t stand with much of our public, so that’s where I feel the legislation here is appropriate to some extent.”

Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the Association of Oregon Counties, took issue with allowing counties to be held liable for damages, especially given that the area where the shooting was taking place was not zoned for shooting ranges. 

“It says we would have liability if we fail to regulate a shooting range on land which a shooting range is not allowed,” he said. Bovett argued Polk County officials took action when a cease-and-desist order was issued last year. 

Roger Beyer, a lobbyist for the NRA, said the bill would set a precedent legislators should be concerned with. 

“Going forward, if someone is unhappy, they will come to the legislature. [Owners] will be subject to liability any time anyone fires a bullet on private property,” Beyer said. 

Jerry Clancy, a Keizer resident, said the original bill didn’t go far enough. 

“It exonerates [the owner] of any responsibility. We would have to go after whoever [fired the] shot. It ought to prohibit any firearms from being shot in that location at all, make sure that the range can not be used, and that the person who owns the property is liable,” Clancy said. 

Keizer resident Danny Dietz, a retired police officer, said residents grew to accept the shooting happening on the property, but “it’s gotten out of control. I understand firearm safety and use of a range. But this is not a range, it is a place to shoot. They are shooting over those berms. Even in the best conditions, mistakes happen and there are safety errors being made over and over again, year after year,” Dietz said. 

In June 2018, a bullet that left the quarry penetrated the home exterior wall and struck a granite backsplash, a few feet away from one of the home owners. The incident followed a similar one that occurred in September 2017. On Sept. 10, a hail of bullets drove visitors out of Sunset Park and residents out of their homes. 

A hearing on a permanent injunction to stop the shooting that had been scheduled for this week was canceled.