Assault weapons caught in the crosshairs

Illustration by Annie C.K. Smith and Cat Frink / the Torch

Oregon voters may have the opportunity to vote on a reduction on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines this November. Initiative petition 43, IP43, proposes an end to the sale, transfer or possession of certain weapons and magazines in order to “promote the public health and safety of the residents.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oregon saw 513 firearm deaths in 2016, an increase of 27 deaths over the previous year. From 2010 through 2014, about 83 percent of the 2,280 Oregon resident deaths from firearms was due to suicide, the Oregon Health Authority states.

IP43 states that assault weapons include any semiautomatic pistol, rifle or shotgun with a revolving cylinder, conversion kit or detachable magazine that has the ability to accept over 10 rounds of ammunition. A large-capacity magazine is one that can hold over 10 rounds.

The petition states that it would be a crime if one “manufactures, imports, possesses, purchases, sells or transfers any assault weapon or large capacity magazine” beyond the exceptions in the petition. It would require that a person with any of the weapons above sell them to a firearms dealer or gunsmith, remove them from Oregon, disable them or dispose of them.

Those who want to keep an assault weapon or large-capacity magazine that they had possessed before the petition would go into effect must register the weapon with the Oregon State Police. They would perform background checks as well as require proof that the person has the weapon or magazine stored on their or a willing and approved third-party’s property. If the registration is successful, the person would not be allowed to purchase other assault weapons.

Initiated by three chief petitioners, the petition has gained the support of others, such as Ceasefire Oregon, a grassroots organization that advocates higher gun ownership standards, more accountability of firearm dealers and improved safety gun and gun ownership safety requirements.

Ceasefire Oregon Executive Director Penny Okamoto said that “reasonable, effective gun laws” are necessary to combat the abusive use of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, noting that although there is a magazine limit of five for hunting large game in Oregon, the state has no limit when applied to humans.

“About one person a day kills themselves with a gun,” Okamoto said.

After a shooting at a mall in Clackamas County, on Dec. 11, 2012 – in which an assault weapon was used – was followed three days later by shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut,Ceasefire Oregon helped draft a petition similar to IP43. However “it was killed quickly” by Congress, Okamoto said.

“After Sandy Hook, people were shaken with grief and shock,” Okamoto said, referring to a shooting in which 20 elementary school children were killed, “The country thought, ‘Surely, now surely, Congress will make a difference.’ But it didn’t. The legislature had the chance to act five years ago, but it didn’t.’”

Okamoto also said that not only has Congress failed to act on gun control, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act prevents citizens from suing firearms manufacturers and sellers when their products are used to commit crimes.

“We can’t sue anyone, and we can’t get Congress to act, so people are angry,” she said.

Kevin Starrett, the founder of the Oregon Firearms Federation, an organization that provides “a no-compromise voice for gun owners” and informs said owners of their Constitutional right to bear arms, opposes the initiative petition.

He said that the proposals of IP43 allow for the theft of guns from gun owners by banning all modern firearms. These firearms are “the only firearms protected under our Constitution,” he said. Starrett also said that the petition’s terminology is misleading.

“By inventing a term – assault weapon has no technical meaning – and then defining what the term means,” he said in an email, “they have essentially hijacked the language. ‘Assault’ is a crime. Guns do not commit crimes. They could have just as easily said they were banning ‘crime guns’ and then defined ‘crime gun’ as any gun that holds more than two rounds.”

Starrett added that the support for IP43 is backed by little knowledge or consideration for the threats that such a petition, if passed, could cause.

“Banning guns will allow the state to have a monopoly on power,” he said, referencing time periods in history, such as Stalinist Russia and Cambodia under Pol Pot, in which bans or severe restrictions on guns took place.

According to the Oregon Secretary of State website, 88,000 signatures will be needed by July 6 in order for the initiative to be on the November ballot. The petition currently waits at the attorney general’s office for a ballot title. If successful, the ballot will be passed on to the secretary of state. If the measure appears on the ballot and receives a majority vote, it would go into effect in January 2019.