Assault weapons used by Jackson County sheriff's deputies are displayed during a news conference Wednesday where Sheriff Mike Winters discussed President Obama's gun control proposals. - Jamie Lusch

Local authorities respond to Obama's gun ban plan

President Barack Obama's far-reaching gun control effort that called for a ban on assault-type weapons on Wednesday drew fire from the Jackson County sheriff but support from the Medford police chief.

Sheriff Mike Winters said he would not go as far as other Oregon sheriffs who have declared they will refuse to enforce a federal gun ban should one be imposed. But he also said he could not support any efforts that circumvented the Second Amendment right to bear arms, even if those arms happen to be assault weapons that were never envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

"It's not a need — it's a right," he said. "The federal government is not going to come and seize one gun from the citizens of Jackson County."

Both Winters and Medford police Chief Tim George supported the president in calling for more background checks and help for the mentally ill.

The president called for closing background check loopholes, banning assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, making schools safer, and increasing help for the mentally ill.

Obama plans to enact many of the provisions by executive order, but has asked Congress to renew and strengthen the federal Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004.

The president issued his plan to curb gun violence Wednesday morning, and Winters said he didn't have enough time to fully review it by Wednesday afternoon.

He said the president's response to assault weapons was "emotional," but he agreed the country needs to have a reasonable discussion to stop the kind of violence that left 26 dead in Newtown, Conn.

"Honestly, the president has had somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction to this," he said. "We need to have a measured response to this. I want to protect children as much as the president does."

Winters said law enforcement in general has felt the effects of the closure of mental health facilities, as well as the widespread use of drugs by those with mental illness.

"The problem is the criminals and the criminally insane," Winters said.

Winters said federal officials need to stop wasting money on government support for such things as police programs in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the money should be invested in the U.S. to care for the poor and the mentally ill.

"We need to take care of America first," he said.

George generally supported most of what the president proposed, including the renewal of an assault weapons ban.

"We had it for 10 years, and we didn't see it have an effect on responsible firearms ownership," George said.

He said the country needs to have a serious discussion about high-capacity ammunition clips such as the 100-round magazine used in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shooting.

"One hundred rounds, seriously," George said. "That's for warfare, not for your average citizen."

George said he would like to change the president's priorities, placing safeguarding education and help for those with mental illness ahead of background checks and new gun laws.

More needs to be done to alert authorities early on when someone with a mental illness expresses violent intent, George said.

The country had to give up certain liberties after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and George said the present situation of violence with assault-type weapons will require a similar response.

"In this day and age, it is unfortunate, but a reality, that we sacrifice certain liberties we've had for the greater good," he said.

George said he endorses the president's call for greater safeguards at schools, pointing out that the Medford Police Department pays 100 percent of the cost for four full-time cops at North and South Medford high schools and the two middle schools.

"We believe in it," he said. "The relationship the cops play in those schools pays off."

Carl Worden, an outspoken gun rights supporter and member of the Southern Oregon Militia, said he applauded Oregon sheriffs who have vowed to defy any attempt to take away guns from law-abiding citizens.

He said there would be little chance the federal government could seize assault-type weapons from local citizens.

"We would stop them by force of arms," he said. "If they ever even think of trying to confiscate guns, they are never going to make it to the door."

Worden said he thinks most gun owners support the idea of background checks for anyone who buys a gun and also thinks guns shouldn't fall into the hands of the mentally ill.

Worden believes the U.S. is on the brink of economic collapse and that assault weapons and large ammunition clips will become necessary as families try to protect themselves in the chaos. He claims welfare recipients and others who lose their subsidies will take to the streets, looting and stealing.

"It's going to be a total flaming disaster," he said.

Law-abiding citizens will need a way to protect themselves, he said. An assault weapon with more than 10 rounds will make all the difference for a homeowner trying to save his family's life, he said.

Worden said he predicts limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds and banning assault weapons will not survive Congress.

"They don't have a snowball's chance of banning these things," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email

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