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Sen. Ron Wyden answers questions at a town hall Thursday at Central Medford High School. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Wyden says no to arming teachers

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden told a Medford audience Thursday he opposed the idea of arming teachers and said he supported stricter background checks for gun purchases and a ban on bump stocks, but he left people wondering where he stood on a proposed natural gas pipeline through the state.

On a day when school was canceled because of snowy weather, Wyden and a few dozen Jackson County residents attended a town hall meeting in the Central Medford High School gym Thursday afternoon.

The event touched on several topics of national and local importance but was bookended by multiple questions about Wyden's plan to address a subject of recently heightened national interest: curbing gun violence.

Brian Josephson, a South Medford High School senior and one of the only students to make an appearance at the event, was met with applause after kicking off the questions by asking: "Senator, what gun control measures would you support in Congress to protect American classrooms?"

In the five full minutes of Wyden's response, the senator said he had a few ideas of actions he would support: ensuring "airtight, loophole-free" background checks on gun purchases and curtailing the sale of bump stocks, accessories that turn semi-automatic weapons into virtual machine guns. He also criticized a proposal President Donald Trump supports: arming teachers with firearms.

"I'm for teachers teaching," he said. "If you want to go down that route, we've just got to arm everybody. That's not what makes sense in America, and it's certainly not the Oregon way."

The twice-denied Pacific Connector pipeline that would run through Oregon and carry liquefied natural gas to Coos Bay also figured heavily in the town hall discussion. Pipeline opponents passed out signs to some attendees, and people on various sides of the issue asked questions.

Allie Rosenbluth said the proposed pipeline "would trample the private property rights of hundreds of landowners, impact traditional tribal territories" and endanger Coos Bay residents.

When she asked Wyden to commit to publicly standing against the pipeline project, Wyden wouldn't give a clear answer, saying his actions showed his commitment to uphold previous decisions to block the pipeline.

"I am going to do whatever it takes to make this call on the basis of the environmental rules, the energy rules," he said.

Gary Jackson, a business representative with the Local 737 Laborers' Union, said the senator had made supportive statements in the past about the pipeline project's ability to bring jobs to the areas it would pass through.

"You made that commitment that yes, we do need new jobs," Jackson said. "We still do need those jobs ... we still need that fair shake."

After Wyden used the word "neutral" to define his role in the project, both pro- and anti-pipeline proponents seemed to take issue.

"I was just trying to point out to him that he was supportive ... not necessarily supporting the project itself but supporting the higher wages and the higher standard of living," Jackson said. "He has always taken the stand that he was going to let it run the course, so I wasn't trying to throw him under the bus on that or anything."

McKenzie Harris and Jordan Wellspring, who both oppose the project, said research into the pipeline's potential environmental effects should block it from being considered anymore.

"He kept saying, 'I'm going to uphold my promise,' " Harris said.

"So it's time to come through with that promise," Wellspring said.

Wyden allowed some meet-and greet time with attendees afterward before heading off to Grants Pass for a Josephine County town hall at 5 p.m.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.

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