Lawmakers Must Heed the Call for Gun Safety

Penny Okamoto, director of Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation, writes about the need for gun violence prevention in Oregon.

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Gun violence prevention policy rests on good research, public demand for safer communities, law enforcement officers willing and able to enforce laws, and government officials sending clear messages that they are serious about responsible firearm ownership and reducing gun violence.

Gun violence prevention research has been successfully carried out over the past decades despite the 1996 Dickey Amendment that effectively chilled research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more than two decades. Policymakers and legislators know which firearm-related policies and legislation are effective at reducing gun violence, thanks to researchers including Dr. Daniel Webster and Dr. Cassandra Crifasi at Johns Hopkins, Dr. David Hemenway and Dr. Deborah Azrael at Harvard, Dr. Garen Wintemute at UC Davis, Dr. John Donohue at Stanford and many others.

According to Drs. Webster and Crifasi of Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy, permit-to-purchase (licensing) laws are the most effective way to cut gun violence. In Oregon, Lift Every Voice Oregon (LEVO) successfully placed Measure 114 on the Oregon ballot for November 2022. Measure 114 would require people who wish to acquire a firearm (by purchase, trade or permanent transfer) to first obtain a permit to purchase a firearm. To obtain a permit, a person must take a firearm-training class, receive hands-on training with a firearm, pass a background check and pay a $65 fee. Measure 114 also limits high-capacity magazines to 10 rounds. A 2019 analysis of mass shootings by American Journal of Public Health found that attacks involving large-capacity magazines resulted in a 62% higher death toll.

These policies are components of the Denver Accord, which was compiled by GVPedia in 2019 as a detailed road map for policymakers and legislators who are working to reduce gun violence. The Denver Accord provides details for important overarching concepts including increasing standards for gun ownership; strengthening and enforcing current gun laws; and protecting communities by reducing the presence of guns in public, funding community-based intervention solutions, and providing education about guns and gun violence.

Oregon has achieved some of these goals by enacting a universal background check law, closing the Dating Partner Loophole, enacting an Extreme Risk Protection Order law, prohibiting convicted stalkers from having firearms, and providing some funding for community-based intervention. Oregon, however, has more work to do. For example, Oregon could require federally licensed firearms dealers to install security systems similar to pharmacies or marijuana dispensaries and to digitize their records. Additionally, Oregon could require microstamping of bullets, which would give law enforcement a much-needed tool to track down shooters such as those in drive-by shootings.

Laws are only effective, however, if law enforcement is willing to enforce those laws. Over the years at least 10 Oregon counties have attempted to illegally nullify firearm-related laws. Such actions violate Oregon’s firearm preemption law (ORS 166.170) and Article VI, Paragraph 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the Supremacy Clause. Fortunately, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has pursued legal action against these counties. Yamhill County has already been ordered to enforce duly enacted state and federal firearm laws.

Perhaps the most important piece to firearm laws and policy is understanding the public’s response to gun violence. For the past 23 years, I have been listening to the voices of people responding to shootings. People are angry that they could be so readily shot as they worship, shop, go to a spa, take a yoga class or even at work. But the Uvalde massacre brought home the harsh brutality of a mass shooting at a school. Fences did not stop the shooter. Hundreds of armed police did not stop the shooter. Parents trying to save their children were arrested. Some of the children’s bodies had to be identified by DNA analysis. Those facts chilled the very marrow of parents everywhere and parents responded accordingly.

In the 10 days following the Uvalde shooting, more than 1,200 people volunteered to help LEVO gather enough signatures to place Measure 114 on the ballot. Twelve hundred people in just 10 days.

That overwhelming response is the writing on the wall about firearm policy that leaders need to read. Oregonians sent a clear and concise message that they are serious about responsible firearm ownership and reducing gun violence. Legislators and policymakers must also respond accordingly.

Penny Okamoto is the executive director of Ceasefire Oregon Education Foundation.