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Oregon votes on stricter gun laws, the only ballot measure nationwide that addresses gun violence

The measure — criticized as being too extreme — would require permits to buy firearms, ban high-capacity magazines and create a gun ownership database.
A candlelight vigil for those killed during a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., on Oct. 1, 2015.
A candlelight vigil for the victims of a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., in 2015.Gosia Wozniacka / AP file

Oregon voters will determine Tuesday whether to pass stricter gun laws — the only ballot measure nationwide that addresses gun violence. 

The gun-control initiative, which critics say is the nation’s “most extreme,” requires people to obtain permits and complete safety training to acquire a firearm. It also bans high-capacity magazines and calls for State Police to create and maintain a searchable database of gun ownership.

Supporters, including shooting survivors in the state and across the country, say Oregon Measure 114 is necessary to reduce gun injuries and deaths.

The referendum would prohibit ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds, which have been used in many mass shootings, including the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Such high-capacity magazines allow a shooter to keep firing without having to pause to reload. Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit group that advocates gun control, said 55% of mass shootings since 2009 have involved firearms with high-capacity magazines.

At least nine states and Washington, D.C., have enacted laws banning magazines capable of holding a certain number of rounds, and 14 states and Washington have passed various permit-to-purchase laws, according to Ballotpedia, an election tracking organization.

During a recent virtual news conference, a handful of people who have experienced mass shootings in Oregon voiced their support for the ballot proposition. 

Joshua Friedlein recalled “waiting to die” on Oct. 1, 2015, when a gunman opened fire at Umpqua Community College and killed nine people in the deadliest mass shooting in Oregon. 

His memories of the massacre are as vivid as those of Chris Van Dyke, who was the on-scene district attorney in 1981 when four people were shot dead and 19 others were wounded during a crowded “Ladies Night” at a Salem tavern.

Van Dyke said the images of broken glass and blood are still fresh in his mind. “The horrific images of that night forever changed all of our lives,” he said, adding that one woman who was killed near the bar was still holding a $20 bill.

More than four decades later, Van Dyke said, gun violence has become a daily occurrence at bars, in the streets and in schools.

In Portland, Oregon’s largest city, shooting incidents have surged in the last few years. The number grew from about 300 in the first nine months of 2019 to nearly 1,000 in the same timeframe in 2022, police statistics show

Statewide, 566 people died from a firearm injury in 2019, state health officials said. About 82% were suicides. The number of gun deaths jumped to 593 in 2020. About 77% were suicides.

If the measure passes, permit seekers would have to complete an approved safety course, pass a criminal background check, pay a fee of up to $65, and submit an application to the State Police. A permit would be valid for five years.

Opponents say the requirement will be too expensive to implement and will burden already understaffed law enforcement agencies.

Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson, who is also president of the nonprofit Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, said it would cost local agencies over $49 million annually.  

“It will move very scarce law enforcement resources away from protecting our communities to doing backgrounds and issuing permits,” Nelson said in a video statement.

Gun rights supporters argued the proposal is unconstitutional. The NRA-Institute for Legislative Action said it is “the nation’s most extreme gun control initiative.”

Proponents of the measure disagreed.

“The Second Amendment is not under threat, but we are,” said Ari Freilich, the state policy director at the Giffords Law Center, a gun-control advocacy group. "We are not powerless. We can choose to act.”