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Tim Fought the Associated Press
Published: 13 December 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Faced with a surge of gang-related violence, the largest city in Oregon has approved what a national mayors group says is an innovative law designed to reduce the carnage in gun crime ``hot spots.''

The law tells people with a conviction for illegal gun possession or use on their record that, once they are put on notice by the police chief, they can't be on the streets or in the parks in three exclusion zones where gun violence and violations have been exceptionally high.

The exclusion zones are part of a package of gun ordinances recently passed by the City Council. They could face challenges from either gun rights or civil liberties activists, or both. African-American leaders say they're worried the new laws will be used for racial profiling and harassment.

Among the exclusion zones is much of downtown Portland, including the Old Town entertainment district where a teenager was gunned down outside a nightclub in September.

Less than an hour after leaving the funeral service for the teenage victim of that killing, a 19-year-old was wounded in a drive-by gang shooting -- a piece of the retaliatory gunplay that has characterized the past three years of gang activity in Portland.

Two years ago at a funeral service in a north Portland church, shots rang out and a young man was killed in what police say was a gang-related dispute.

That touched off a binge of tit-for-tat gunfire in Portland and nearby Gresham that averaged nearly a shooting a day and ended after the half-brother of the gunman in the church shooting was killed.

Exclusion zones targeting wrongdoers from specific areas aren't a new idea. Portland has used them in areas rife with prostitution and drugs.

But excluding those with gun convictions from areas where gun violence is common is new, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition set up by Mayors Michael Bloomberg of New York and Thomas Menino of Boston.

The group focuses on the misuse of guns -- explicitly ``protecting the rights of Americans to own guns'' -- and spreading what it calls best practices against illegal use gun use in American cities.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams proposed the exclusion zones as part of a package of gun laws, some inspired by the coalition's work.

``We'll be very interested to see how the law plays out,'' said Arkadi Gerney, a Bloomberg adviser.

The exclusion zones were a result of talks with a former gang member and a statistical study that showed gunfighting in Portland is focused in a few areas, even as gang members displaced by gentrification and gaining mobility on the region's mass transit system have dispersed.

``Four of the eight or nine hot spots had been hot spots for 20 years,'' Adams said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The City Council eventually approved three exclusion zones: part of downtown, a 2.5-square-mile section of the near north side, and a smaller area on the far east side.

The law gives the city police chief power to issue notices to people with gun violations on their records that they are forbidden from public rights of way and parks in the zones.

There are numerous exceptions for legitimate uses. People on notice can still use the streets to go to school or work, see a lawyer or probation officer, or get social services. People on notice don't have to move: One exception allows them to ``reside in a dwelling or facility.''

Penalties are a fine of up to $500, a jail term of up to 30 days, or both.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it objected to giving the police chief such power, arguing that should be reserved for judges as part of sentencing so that the people on notice could be represented by lawyers.

Kevin Starrett of the Oregon Firearms Federation argues that the state's 1995 pre-emption law forbids cities to regulate guns, but the city's legal staff said the law gives the city enough leeway for the new laws.

Republican Kim Thatcher of Keizer, a state representative who defends gun rights, said the Portland laws appeared to be crafted narrowly. She acknowledged that tightening the pre-emption to preclude Portland's law might be difficult given the time and energy time or energy lawmakers will have this winter to deal with the state's budget crisis.

The laws worry African-American leaders.

The Rev. T. Allen Bethel of the Albina Ministerial Alliance has argued that the laws don't address joblessness and disadvantage, that the exclusion zones could scare off lenders and reduce home values, and that the police could use the laws to harass and ensnare young black people who have not been convicted.

``We see enough of that,'' Bethel said. ``We don't want our citizens being profiled.''

He said, though, that the laws could help. ``Administered in good faith and with due diligence, I believe that some of these things could stem the tide of violence.''

Adams says an oversight committee will monitor police work on the exclusion zones.

Other elements of the new laws sets a 7 p.m. curfew for juveniles the courts have found in violation of gun use or possession laws, penalize gun owners who don't report the theft or loss of a gun, hold adults responsible if their guns get into the hands of children and require a minimum 30-day sentence for people previously convicted of gun offenses who are convicted of carrying a loaded gun in public places.

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