Many parents across the U.S. worry about keeping students safe at school after the mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school. The massacre left 19 children and two teachers dead.
The shooting has given an Oregon ballot initiative tremendous momentum, with signatures increasing rapidly and the number of volunteers working on it doubling to over 1,200. With the majority of state legislatures not taking action on gun safety in recent years, activists see initiatives driven by voters as a viable alternative.
According to Reverend Mark Knutson, a chief backer of the Oregon initiative, “To get really strong action at this moment in time, it’s going to take people in a democracy to exercise that democratic right to get on the ballot and get it voted for.”
Oregon appears to be the only state in the U.S. with a gun safety initiative underway for the 2022 election. Suppose the initiative makes it to the ballot and is passed. In that case, anyone wanting to purchase a firearm must first get a permit from law enforcement after passing a criminal background check, completing safety training, and meeting other state requirements. The permit would be valid for five years. The measure would also ban all ammunition magazines over ten rounds, except for the military, law enforcement, current owners, and state police would create a firearm database.
The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action has already voiced opposition to the initiative with a statement on its website saying, “these anti-gun citizens are coming after YOU, the law-abiding firearm owners of Oregon, and YOUR guns. They don’t care about the Constitution, your right to keep and bear arms, or your God-given right of self-defense.”
Neighboring states have already passed legislation
Voters in two predominantly Democrat neighboring states have already passed ballot measures focused on gun safety. Washington state voters approved restrictions on purchases and ownership of firearms in 2018, including adding background checks, increasing waiting periods, and raising the minimum age to purchase to 21. In 2016, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to remove individuals’ access to firearms by authorizing courts to issue extreme risk protection orders.
In 2016, voters in Maine defeated a proposal to require background checks to purchase ammunition by a narrow margin. The same year, California voters passed a measure requiring specific individuals to pass a background check to buy ammunition and prohibiting the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines.
According to Daniel Webster, co-director of the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University, ballot initiatives “are a great way to advance gun policies that are popular.” However, he noted, “But I honestly don’t know how much one state’s ballot initiative affects the likelihood of other states taking action.”
Second amendment rights supporters in Montana narrowly approved a ballot measure to limit local governments’ authority to regulate the carrying of unconcealed weapons and regulate the carrying of permitted concealed weapons in 2020.
Voters in Iowa’s November election will decide whether or not to add gun rights language to the state constitution after the Republican majority in the state legislature passed a resolution last year to put the issue on the ballot. The resolution required no signature gathering.
Opponents of the Iowa measure say if the measure passes, courts could end up striking down permits required to carry a gun, a ban on gun possession by people convicted of a felony, and restrictions on gun background checks.
In Washington state, a new initiative would prohibit local and state governments from imposing limits on purchasing and owning firearms. Nebraska has an initiative that would allow open-carry and concealed weapons to be carried in public locations.
The initiative in Oregon needs at least 112,080 verified signatures from registered voters by July 8 to appear on the ballot. According to Knutson, the effort is working and will be vital to helping “start to build hope across the nation for others to do the same.”