Sen. Hansell defends vote in favor of firearm suicide prevention bill

SALEM – Longtime local state Senator Bill Hansell (R-Athena) is responding to criticism after he voted in favor of a bill aimed at curbing suicides by firearms.

Senate Bill 1503, which passed both the Senate and House with bipartisan support, would create a 17-member task force, exploring ways to reduce suicides by firearms. The panel would look into better responses to issues like youth suicide ideation, and domestic violence as a community safety risk.

Another Eastern Oregon Senator, Lynn Findley (R-Vale), voted no.

Hansell, who represents Senate District 29, which includes Wallowa, Union, Umatilla, Morrow, Gilliam, Sherman, and parts of Wasco Counties,  says while he faced pushback from gun rights groups, he first worked to change the language of the bill by meeting with Senate President Rob Wagner (D-Beaverton)

“In our discussions, it became clear that the terminology surrounding gun violence needed to be reframed,” Senator Hansell stated. “For many, the term ‘gun violence’ evokes contentious debates around Second Amendment rights. By shifting the focus to ‘suicide by firearms,’ we were able to foster a more constructive dialogue centered on prevention and intervention.”

Drawing attention to the alarming statistics, Senator Hansell highlighted the profound impact of firearm-related suicides on Oregon communities. “Of the approximately 500 Oregonians who tragically take their lives each year using firearms, a significant portion are white males,” he explained. “This demographic includes veterans, law enforcement officers, and individuals facing mental health crises.”

Senator Hansell says his involvement in prior legislative efforts related to suicide prevention, notably the AgriStress program aimed at supporting farmers and ranchers, positioned him as a key collaborator in the development of SB 1503. AgrisStress is a program where people working in agriculture can seek help for mental health issues.

Drawing from his firsthand experience growing up on a farm, Senator Hansell underscored the unique stressors faced by the agricultural community.

“Farmer and ranchers have a high rate of suicide. I grew up on a ranch and saw the stress my dad had to go through, so I understand the pressure they have constantly,” said Hansell.

He said because of his work on the AgriStree hotline, he was asked to help craft SB1503.

“I said we need to make sure that the task force itself has positions in it that would reflect a variety of views,” said Hansell.  “If all we do is have anti-Second Amendment rights people on it, my base isn’t going to buy into it. So we made sure to have a variety of people on the task force.”

He says he’s received pushback from groups such as the Oregon Firearms Federation. On its website, The Federation says the task force “has no representative from any organization that promotes firearms training or supports Second Amendment rights.”

Hansell says he wants to emphasize the importance of addressing underlying causes of suicide, rather than solely focusing on the means employed.

“We’re talking about mental health. We’re talking about the reason that firearms are being used is because they’re pretty successful if you want to end your life,” said Hansell. “But we need to attack the problem, not from the vehicle they use, but rather the causes that cause people to use that vehicle.”

He says he was criticized for testifying in favor of the bill and eventually voting for it, but he says he’s content with his vote.

“I knew I was walking a thin line, but I want to give it a shot,” said Hansell. “I felt like it was the right thing to do because I want to make sure the answer from the task force isn’t that we lock up guns and deny people their constitutional rights.”