Commentary

In wake of Texas shooting, Bentz needs to back his talk of school safety with action

The Oregon Republican can detail the guns he owns but not his plans to safeguard school kids

June 1, 2022 5:30 am
U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz

U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Oregon, said he never considered or asked for a presidential pardon for voting against Pennsylvania results.(Malheur Enterprise)

In the hours after the deadly school shooting in Texas, only one member of Oregon’s Congressional delegation stayed quiet ­– U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, a Republican from Ontario.

The state’s U.S. senators and four other U.S. representatives weighed in, responding to questions or otherwise pushing for action.

In the days after 19 children were gunned down in their classroom, much of the country was asking: “How can this be stopped?”

Bentz provided no answer for days.

He issued no press statements.

He posted no comments to his Congressional website.

He stayed silent on his official Facebook account.

He didn’t respond to questions from the Oregon Capital Chronicle’s reporters.

That Bentz might want to protect schools isn’t surprising, given what’s happened since he took his seat in Congress in January 2021.

While the rest of Oregon’s delegation has advanced gun safety ideas, sometimes for years, the record shows only one gun-related legislation in Congress that Bentz put his name to. That would have allowed a state’s concealed weapons permit to be valid in every other state.

That’s not surprising, since he represents vast regions of Oregon where guns are part of life.

In his public service as a state representative, then state senator, and now congressman, Bentz has stood firmly behind gun rights, the Second Amendment, and the National Rifle Association.

During his 2020 campaign for U.S. representative, Bentz posted his personal inventory of guns on his campaign website.

“I had and still have my 357 Ruger single six which I bought in 1969.  I have a Glock 19 9mm Luger, a Winchester 30-30, a Winchester 22, a rolling block single shot Remington 22, and several other long guns,” he said.

He also had a concealed weapons permit, he said.

After the Texas shooting, Bentz told Medford station KTVL, “One of the things that should be done, I’ve recommended many times, is that we begin to make sure that our schools are appropriately protected.”

That Bentz might want to protect schools isn’t surprising, given what’s happened since he took his seat in Congress in January 2021.

In 2021, according to Education Week, the country experienced 24 school shootings.

“A shooting on Nov. 30, in which a student killed four people and injured seven at an Oxford, Mich., high school, was the deadliest school shooting since May 2018,” Education Week reported.

And the months this year leading up to the Texas school shooting haven’t been any better. A sampling:

  • Jan.  19 – One student shoots and wounds another student outside a high school bathroom in Sanford, Florida.
  • Feb. 1 – Two students shoot and kill one other student, wound two others at school in Richfield, Minnesota.
  • March 15 – A 15-year-old boy shoots another teenager at a high school in Yakima, Washington.
  • March 31 ­– A 12-year-old shoots and kills another 12-year-old at a middle school in Greenville, S.C.
  • April 5 – A 14-year-old shoots another student in a high school hallway in Erie, Pennsylvania.

 

Bentz made his first formal comment on the Texas shooting that I could find when he posted on Friday, May 27, to his Facebook page. He said the Uvalde shooting was “the very definition of evil.”

“We must ensure that our schools are provided with necessary resources to protect against attacks such as this,” he said. He asked constituents to join him in “acting, immediately, to improve the security of our schools.”

He put up a fence around one action being discussed nationwide – gun safety.

“While much must be done to ensure the safety of our citizens, infringing on Constitutional rights is not the answer,” he wrote on his Facebook post.

So, what is his solution?

There is no readily available record of the school safety actions that Bentz says he has recommended “many times.”

His publicly-paid communications director, Knox McCuthen, didn’t respond to emails on Friday seeking Bentz’s past proposals and what he was proposing now.

The interest in school safety, though, isn’t a priority for the congressman, judging from his record and despite one child after another dying in school shootings since he took on the title of U.S. representative.

On his campaign website, Bentz lists 12 issues important to him. Nothing refers to school safety, but that’s where he does call out the Second Amendment and offers up his personal weapons inventory.

On his Congressional website, the lead item is: “Afghanistan Resources.” The closest his page comes to school matters is his announcement the day before the Texas shooting: “Bentz Announces Winner of 2022 Congressional Art Competition.”

His website includes a search function, but nowhere on Bentz’s page does the phrase “school safety” appear.

Bentz has a political reality, of course. At this point, a lot of voters in the 2nd Congressional District expect Bentz to do anything he can to defend their gun rights.

Let’s give him that, for argument’s sake.

So, then, doesn’t the congressman owe Oregon something more concrete than “don’t touch my guns” to address the school shootings that plague no other country as they do ours?

His claims of being focused on school safety are empty. He hasn’t acted. He has, like so many politicians, talked.

That’s not good enough.

That’s not good enough for 19 children gone to their graves in Texas.

That’s not good enough for the people of Oregon, who have endured their own mass shootings and resulting “thoughts and prayers” solutions.

In his Facebook post, he wrote, “There is nothing more important than our children and they must be kept safe.”

The time’s here for Bentz to act on those words.

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Les Zaitz
Les Zaitz

Les Zaitz is a veteran editor and investigative reporter, serving Oregon for more than 45 years. He reported for The Oregonian for 25 years and owns community newspapers and a digital news service. He is a national SPJ fellow, two-time Pulitzer finalist, including for a lengthy investigation of Mexican drug cartels in Oregon and five-time winner of Oregon’s top investigative reporting award. He has investigated corrupt state legislators, phony charities, and an international cult that moved to Oregon, and the biggest bank failure in Oregon history. He also has been active in reforming the state’s public records law and was appointed by the governor to the Oregon Public Records Advisory Council. In his spare time, he operates a ranch nestled in a national forest, feeding horses and assorted animals.

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