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Future Battles Over Guns

A string of mass shootings reignited conversations about gun control, and activists see paths to reducing gun violence in Oregon

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On May 14 a racist attack on a Buffalo supermarket killed 10 and injured three; it was the deadliest mass shooting of the year—until just 10 days later, when a gunman killed 21 and injured 17 at a school in Uvalde, Texas. At least 246 mass shootings occurred so far in 2022 according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines mass shootings as an incident in which at least four people are shot, excluding the shooter.

The carnage reignited a stalled debate on gun control. There haven't been any federal restrictions since the 1994 federal assault weapons ban that prohibited the sale of military-style semiautomatic rifles and magazines over 10 rounds that expired in 2004. Without federal regulations, states have diverged in policy, with Republican states moving toward greater access to firearms while Democratic ones tend to regulate the market.

Oregon has the 11th-strongest gun laws in the U.S., according to Everytown for Gun Safety. The gun violence rate in the state is near average, with 13 gun deaths per 100,000 residents per year. Oregon's political environment makes further gun control more feasible and activists are seeking to fill cracks in the surface.

"I am a mom of three public school students and I'm a substitute teacher. And I know how intense the sense of despair is about school-based mass shootings in particular," said Jenn Lynch, President of the Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety. "I hope that the anger and frustration and fear that's felt by teachers in Oregon, and their students is something that can circumvent or overcome our super-entrenched politics on this issue."

High-capacity magazines like those found here could not be legally sold in Oregon if Lift Every Voice Oregon's ballot measure is successful. - COURTESY OF JOE CEREGHINO VIA WIKIMEDIA
  • Courtesy of Joe Cereghino via Wikimedia
  • High-capacity magazines like those found here could not be legally sold in Oregon if Lift Every Voice Oregon's ballot measure is successful.

To combat the most violent mass shootings, Lift Every Voice Oregon is petitioning a gun control initiative for the November 2022 ballot that would limit magazine capacity to 10 and create a permit-to-purchase system. The permit would require prospective buyers to pass firearms training and complete a background check before being able to buy a gun — with an additional background check for each subsequent gun purchase.

Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy found licensing laws are effective in reducing the rate of firearm suicide, firearm homicide and gun trafficking to underground markets. The center's deputy director called it "one of the most effective policies we have to reduce gun violence."

Licensing laws would also make it less likely for people who would fail a background check to obtain a firearm. Now, every gun purchase requires the purchaser to begin a background check but can take the gun if it's been three days since starting it. Nearly 90% of background checks are completed in minutes, but those that take longer than three business days are much more likely to be denied. The loophole is dubbed the Charleston Loophole, after the 2015 mass shooting perpetrated by a white supremacist who obtained a gun four days after submitting a background check that would've ultimately stopped the purchase.

Oregon closed the gun show loophole in 2015, requiring all gun sales go through someone with a Federal Firearms License. Prior to that, private sellers could circumnavigate any background checks required by legitimate gun store owners. Though laws are on the books about unlicensed firearm sales, between 2015 and 2021 there have only been 15 citations, according to the Oregon State Police.

"I think utilization of the laws that we've passed is, I mean, this is one place where even gun rights advocates agree that we need to enforce the laws we have on the books," Lynch said. "Law enforcement needs to take advantage of the laws that we have on the books. That includes enforcing background check laws, enforcing safe storage laws and using the tool of emergency risk protection when it makes sense."

Enforcement and accessible information about the law is key for better outcomes in gun violence, Lynch says. Oregon's emergency risk protection order, often dubbed as a "red flag" law, allows law enforcement to confiscate guns if they appear to be a risk to themselves or others, or if referred by a family member. The law could be used in case of imminent violence against others, but it could also be used in instances of suicidal ideation, which account for over 80% of Oregon's gun deaths. The law is particularly underutilized in rural Oregon, where older men are disproportionately prone to suicide.

"One of the best tools that we have to reduce gun suicide is Oregon's emergency risk protection order, ERPO, that enables family, law enforcement professionals to petition a court to take guns away from a person who's in crisis. If more people knew about the law, more rural suicides could be prevented," Lynch said.

Mandatory waiting periods are also meant to reduce suicide deaths. Risk of death by suicide is 100 times higher in the first 20 days of purchasing a handgun, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

About The Author

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...

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