COFOUNDER OF GUN OWNERS FOR RESPONSIBLE OWNERSHIP
Paul Kemp was born and raised in Michigan, a state where hunting was and is a popular sport. “Growing up there,” he says, “opening day of deer season was a big deal. We would go hunting for rabbit, deer, pheasant, duck and all that.” Paul hunted with the men in his family. “It was an important rite of passage,” he explains. “Gun safety was a big deal for my grandfather, as it was with all my uncles and my stepdad. I learned that guns should be stored locked up and unloaded at home. That’s how I was brought up.”
As an adult, Paul moved to Oregon and married a woman who also grew up hunting, and they started a family together. When his son was old enough, Paul took him hunting and set up a target range on their property, where they could practice shooting. And he passed on his grandfather’s lessons about gun safety to his own children.
One tragic event showed Paul that he needed to share his beliefs about gun safety with others beyond his own family.
In 2012, his brother-in-law, Steve Forsyth, was killed in a mass shooting at Clackamas Town Center. The shooter entered the mall at 3:28 p.m. and within two minutes, he fired off seventeen bullets, killing Steve Forsyth and Cindy Yuille (see profile on Hunter Yuille) and seriously wounding fifteen-year-old Kristina Shevchenko. He had 145 bullets in five thirty-round magazines on him, and there were nearly ten thousand people in the mall that afternoon. Luckily, after firing those first shots, his gun jammed. He ran into a stairway and shot himself.
Paul had planned to visit Steve at the mall that evening. After receiving a frantic call from his sister, Paul left work to meet his sister and niece outside the mall. They could not reach Steve on his cell phone. Paul was with his sister and niece when they got the terrible news about their husband and father. Talking about that day still brings Paul to tears, nearly seven years later.
Police later discovered the shooter had stolen the weapon he used, a Stag-15 semiautomatic rifle, from a friend’s apartment the day of the shooting. That friend had purchased the rifle legally, then left it out, unlocked and loaded. He noticed the gun and his friend (the shooter) were both missing before he went to work, but he did not call police to tell them about the theft. The gun owner did not call police until the mass shooting was already national news. When Paul learned about this gun that had killed his brother-in-law, he was angry. “Doesn’t Oregon have a safe storage law?” he asked police officers. He was surprised to hear the answer was no.
WHAT ARE SAFE STORAGE LAWS?
Safe storage laws promote responsible gun ownership by requiring gun owners to store their guns out of the reach of others, such as children or others prohibited from using guns. These laws help prevent tragedies—like unintentional shootings, suicide, and mass shootings—by ensuring guns are used only by their rightful owners. Only eleven states have laws about how to store guns safely. Massachusetts is the only state that requires all guns be locked when stored.
Just three days after the Clackamas Town Center shooting, Sandy Hook happened—six adults and twenty children were murdered. “I couldn’t stay silent anymore,” Paul said. “I had to speak up. It’s all I could do for Steve.” He and other gun owners formed a group called Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership (GOFRO). The advocacy group supports Americans’ right to own guns but urges gun owners to store their weapons safely. Specifically, to store firearms and ammunition locked and sepa- rate and to support universal background checks.
Here’s the organization’s mission:
We are gun owners, sportsmen, veterans, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons who seek reasonable and responsible solutions to preventing gun violence.
We envision an America where all are safe from gun violence, and where responsible gun owners take the lead to promote safe gun ownership and sensible laws and regulations.
We believe our Second Amendment rights come with responsibilities.
We believe in commonsense efforts to reduce gun vio- lence and promote gun safety including:
Universal background checks to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people
Safe and secure storage of firearms to prevent access by children or any unauthorized person
Did You Know?
Eighty-nine percent of unintentional gun deaths of children happen in the home. Most of these deaths occur when children are playing with a loaded gun while their parents are gone.
Paul and his group are advocating for stronger gun safety laws in Oregon and nationwide. Although he has a full-time job, Paul devotes a lot of time to speaking at rallies, as well as lobbying law- makers in Salem, Oregon’s capital, and Washington, DC. He says, “There are groups on the right and groups on the left. We are a voice in the middle, for gun owners to speak up.” Paul thinks groups like his are good alternatives to the NRA because they are true supporters of gun safety—not lobbyists for gun manufacturers.
Paul does this work to honor his brother-in-law, who he describes as “the most positive guy I’ve ever known.” Steve was a husband, father, entrepreneur, youth sports coach, and beloved member of his community. If Oregon had had a safe storage gun law on the books in 2012, it’s possible he would still be alive today.
Paul’s advice to young activists: “Talk to your legislator. Call. Email. Go to your state capital.”