Oregon voters may decide new firearms requirements
Only two initiatives appear likely to qualify for a statewide vote Nov. 8 as Oregon's deadline approaches for petitioners to submit signatures.
That deadline is Friday, July 8. The state Elections Division will have up to 30 days afterward to verify signatures, generally done with sampling.
The mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, have given momentum to advocates of a measure to set new requirements for firearms permits and limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds each.
At the end of May, they had submitted barely 2,500 of the 112,020 signatures required to qualify it for the statewide ballot. One week before the deadline, that total had increased to around 120,000 — and a chief petitioner says the goal is 140,000.
The Rev. Dr. W.J. Mark Knutson, pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, said a wet spring and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic slowed signature-gathering efforts by 500 volunteers.
Then came Buffalo, where 10 Black people were shot dead May 14 in a supermarket, and Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers died 10 days later at Robb Elementary School.
"People were saying they could not sit anymore, so we had 1,000 new volunteers come forward to join the 500," Knutson said in an interview. "A lot were parents with children — it was pretty amazing. They are learning about democracy.
"The process is as important as the result — democratic action by the people. In this nation right now, we need to see democracy at work."
In addition to the limit on ammunition magazines, the measure would require people to undergo classroom and live-fire training before they obtain a firearms permit, and complete background checks. (Current law allows a purchaser to obtain a gun even if the check is incomplete after three days; the measure would require the check to be completed.)
The other initiative awaiting qualification for the ballot is a proposed constitutional amendment to bar legislators from seeking reelection if they have 10 or more absences that have not been excused by the Senate president or House speaker. Advocates have submitted 183,942 signatures; the requirement for a constitutional amendment is 149,360.
Public employee unions led the drive for the measure after walkouts by minority Republicans stymied legislative action in 2019 and 2020. The 2020 walkouts forced the majority Democrats to scuttle proposed climate-change legislation and shut down the short session. (Republican senators walked out for one day in 2021; Republicans in the House were deterred from doing so by a 2021 rule that set a maximum daily fine of $500 for an unexcused absence.)
The Oregon Constitution pegs signature requirements to a share of the votes cast for governor in the most recent election. It's 6% for an initiative, which changes state law, and 8% for a constitutional amendment.
Voters also will see two constitutional amendments referred by the 2021 Legislature. One would define health care as a right; the other would remove slavery as a punishment for crime.
Making a choice
The Life Every Voice Oregon movement also had another initiative to ban assault weapons. Though technically still alive, Knutson said advocates chose to focus their efforts on the other measure.
"That one will save more lives," he said. "The permit (requirement) applies to every gun. People right now can buy guns with no training, no knowledge of how they work and no understanding of what they can do."
The limit on magazines, he said, "would take the ammo from assault weapons."
Assuming that the measure qualifies for the ballot and voters pass it, he said, advocates will take a version of the assault-weapons ban to the 2023 Legislature.
"It will be their opportunity to make a significant change after what the voters just did," Knutson said. if legislators follow through, he added, "Oregon will have passed the most comprehensive gun legislation in the nation at one time. We think that will give hope to other states — and Congress."
Oregon voters in 2000 approved an initiative to require background checks for purchasers at gun shows. They did so after legislation passed the Senate but stalled in the House; Republican then had majorities in both chambers.
While Democrats were in the majority in both chambers, they passed bills to require dealers to conduct background checks for private gun sales (2015), empower judges to keep firearms from people at "extreme risk" of harming themselves or others (2017), close the boyfriend loophole for those convicted of domestic-violence misdemeanors to possess firearms, even when the victims were members of the same household (2018) and require trigger locks and safe storage of firearms (2021).
The 2021 law also bars holders of concealed-handgun licenses from bringing firearms into the state Capitol in Salem and the passenger terminal at Portland International Airport. Governing boards can extend such bans to buildings and grounds of public schools, community colleges and universities.
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