Katia Riddle for NPR
Oregon will ask voters in the coming days whether to significantly increase gun restrictions. If passed, a ballot measure in that state would require people who want to buy a gun to pay a fee, take a safety course, submit their fingerprints and pass a background check to obtain a license. . High-capacity magazines — those that hold 10 or more rounds — would be banned altogether.
These restrictions would place Oregon with a handful of other states that have some of the most restrictive gun laws in the United States. In part, experts say, that’s because the ballot measurement process doesn’t typically involve the compromises and sellouts that typically accompany the legislative process of passing a law.
“What’s interesting is how proficient defenders have become using these measures,” says Josh Horwitz, co-director of the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University. “I think there are other states that could benefit from this strategy.” Washington State also used the ballot measurement process to enact gun restrictions.
The Oregon State Sheriffs Association and many gun owner groups oppose the move, which says it would create more paperwork for those seeking to legally own guns. firearms, without restricting their illegal use. Some opponents argue that an alternative solution to tackling gun violence is to strengthen law enforcement, “whether that means having more prosecutors, or investing in more officers on the streets “, says Amy Patrick of the Oregon Hunters Association.
National experts on gun violence disagree. “The evidence is very clear. The policies of these initiatives will save lives,” says Horwitz. He points to studies in several other states documenting a correlation between gun licenses and lower homicide rates. In Connecticut, the homicide rate dropped 28% over a 22-year period after the state passed enabling legislation.
The effort was led by a local team of volunteers and community organizers, including elementary school children and retired baby boomers. For many, the cause is deeply personal.
Charlene McGee recently spent a morning surveying a neighborhood in northeast Portland. She and her parents emigrated from Liberia. She says that as a child living through war, she understood the danger of guns at a young age. “I remember growing up with my ears only knowing the sound of different types of guns,” she says. “As AK-47 was the most widespread.”
Many people she spoke to that day were enthusiastic about the measure, but she went out of her way to persuade at least one dubious voter. “I am a perpetrator of gun violence,” Lionel Irving said. “So I know gun violence all too well.” After serving time for manslaughter, Irving started a nonprofit to help people break the cycle of gun violence.
He told McGee he was concerned the measure would result in harsher penalties for those who illegally carry firearms, which he said would have a disproportionate impact on people of color.
“Look at the skin,” McGee said in response, raising his own arm alongside hers. “I have a 14-year-old boy,” she told him. “I understand what you’re saying. But that’s not what it is.”
Afterwards, McGee said she hoped she had a change of heart, but still, it was a rewarding conversation. They had different perspectives, but the two were able to really get along. Despite all the imperfections of democracy, she says, in times like these, she sees its true beauty.