[EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been changed to reflect a correction. The story misspelled the name of Pendleton Walmart manager Shawna Nulf.]
PENDLETON — Walmart employees in Pendleton this week set up memorials to honor victims of recent gun violence.
A gunman murdered 22 people and wounded more than two dozen Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Another shooter less than a day later gunned down nine people in Dayton, Ohio, and injured 27 others.
And Tuesday last week, a disgruntled employee shot and killed a manager and an associate at a Walmart in Southaven, Mississippi.
Pendleton Walmart manager Shawna Nulf said the violence and tragedies hit home because there is a feeling of family between store employees, which the company calls its associates. Nulf pointed out the table where customers can sign cards expressing their sympathy and condolences. She said the store will gather any cards and mail them Friday.
Walmart employees train each quarter to deal with mass shooters, and Nulf said she reached out to Pendleton police Chief Stuart Roberts, who agreed to come in and talk to employees. She said that is likely to occur Wednesday.
“We can’t say anymore this won’t happen to us,” Nulf said.
Roberts said he is not going to deliver some canned presentation. Rather, he said he likely to open it up to questions and do his best to answer, even if there are no easy answers.
“People are feeling apprehensive, scared, what-have-you,” he said. “People are feeling unsure about what, when where, and why.”
And, he said, folks are fed up with politicians or whoever using mass shootings as a platform to run on or to cause disruption. More than a politician’s political party, he said, people want a plan that takes into account the constitutional right to have guns with public and personal safety. That means listening to an array of top practitioners in mental health, policing and more.
No doubt, he said, the equation is difficult and means considering an array of variables.
But one element that makes no sense, he said, is restricting gun sales at the point-of-retail. He called that an “absurd” way to try to curb gun violence. The black market for guns is too lucrative, he said, and anyone can find a gun illegally, even if if costs a little more.
Roberts said this is not a problem the country can simply legislate its way out of. Tackling gun violence needs policies, but he also said there need to be cultural shifts in what it means to take responsibility and be accountable. That is lacking now, he said, “and we’re reaping the consequences.”
Hermiston Chief of Police Jason Edmiston said he also sees several trends playing a role in gun violence, starting with the mental health care continuing to receive short shrift.
“Elected officials across the nation have done little to address the issue,” Edmiston said. “Instead, there is a drive to train the police on how to handle it.”
The two lawmen also weighed in one how decriminalizing drugs has harmed livability, teachers have less control of their classrooms and the criminal justice system has less power to hold offenders accountable. Edmiston also took the delivery of social services to task.
“Law enforcement has become social service workers, which is fine because we are all human and we care about those we serve,” he stated, “but much of what has transpired over the last couple of decades is not sustainable. We cannot arrest our way out of addressing the issues.”
Oregon’s two U.S. senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both Democrats, weighed in.
After the Ohio shooter killed nine people and injured 27 in less than a minute, Merkley pointed out semi-automatic assault rifles and extended magazines are weapons of war. The shooter had both.
Merkley spokesperson Sara Hottman reported the senator finds a University of Alabama study “quite striking.” The study shows the United States has 270 million guns and 90 mass shootings from 1966 to 2012. No other country has more than 48 million guns or 18 mass shooters. In short, according to Hottman, the U.S. does not have more mental illness, more poverty or more violent video games than other countries, but the country does have more guns, including weapons of war, available to nearly everyone.
Merkley also “knows there are vastly different perspectives when it comes to guns in America,” she continues, “and says he knows there is no perfect solution that will end deadly violence in the nation, but there is a lot we could do to make mass shooting tragedies less frequent and less deadly.”
Those actions include closing loopholes in our background check system, prohibiting the sale of semi-automatic rifles to anyone under 21, and even banning the sale of “assault rifles — weapons of war that are made only to kill people.” He also calls for limiting the size of magazines, which would make it harder to carry out a deadly rampage uninterrupted. And she said Merkley advocates for making sure students have the mental health resources available to prevent thoughts of mass violence and suicide.
“At town halls when this issue comes up,” according to Hottman, “he’ll ask for a show of hands on each of these items. Typically, most people support closing loopholes in the background check system, and increasingly people support limiting the availability of semi-automatic weapons.”
Merkley has co-sponsored legislation to curb mass shootings, from the Background Check Expansion Act to require unlicensed or private sellers to conduct a background check prior to transferring a firearm to the 2017 assault weapons ban, “which would make it a crime to knowingly import, sell, manufacture, or transfer a semiautomatic assault weapon or large capacity ammunition feeding device.” He also introduced the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Act, bicameral legislation to help provide critical school-based mental health services providers in elementary and secondary schools.
Sen. Wyden held a town hall Sunday in Beaverton. During a phone call Monday he said gun violence and what to do about it was the topic of discussion.
“I can just tell you everything I’m picking up from Oregonians, they are tired of meaningless talk and want some action,” he said.
That goes for rural Oregonians as well. He recalled Eva Jones, the Hood River Valley High School student who came to his town hall last year in Odell and spoke out against gun violence. He said she told him it was time for common sense to take the lead on the issue. Wyden said he was so impressed, he invited her to Washington, D.C., to share her concerns about gun violence in schools.
“I think rural young people are going to change this issue,” he said.
He also said he remains committed to better funding for mental health services for schools and wants to shut down background check loopholes. While no legislation will stop anyone from committing violent acts, he said, we should take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. That knowledge can start in rural communities, he said, where the gun shop owners know who should not have a gun.
He also said internet message boards such as 8chan bear some responsibility. The site allows anonymous posters to spread racist and hateful messages with no consequences. He said he wrote the law that allows website moderators to deal with that kind of content.
“There is legal protection for getting the slime off the website,” he said.
Wyden also called out President Donald Trump for his rhetoric on immigrants, which the El Paso killer echoed in a manifesto. Trump on Monday said, “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.”
But Wyden said the president needs to make a firm commitment against white supremacy.
“He has spent more than two years fanning the flames of white supremacy,” Wyden said, “and now he’s going to throw a water balloon at it.”
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, did not respond with comments before deadline Monday.