Rev. W. J. Mark Knutson, Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana and Rev. Alcena Boozer
Knutson is senior pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church. Cahana is senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel; Boozer is pastor emerita at St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal.
We mourn with our Muslim sisters and brothers the great loss of life in the horrific shootings at the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Our faith communities have long stood together united in love to overcome violence and hate. We take solace in the actions of their prime minister for immediately taking steps to fix weaknesses in their gun laws – in particular, banning military-style semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines. And we hope that our own leaders in Oregon can find inspiration and show the same courage to protect Oregonians.
Two bills of enormous importance are before the Oregon Legislature: House Bill 3223, which seeks to regulate and restrict assault weapons and House Bill 3265, which aims to ban large-capacity ammunition magazines. If these measures sound familiar, they should. Our coalition had sought to put these same questions before voters last year but ran out of time before we could get it on the ballot. How we got here, however, shows why this effort will succeed.
One year ago, just weeks after the devastating mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a group of faith leaders came together to take action, and to let our youth know they are not alone. A grassroots organization, Lift Every Voice Oregon, was formed and we took on the challenge of getting these measures on the November 2018 ballot.
Oregonians in every part of the state - rural, suburban and urban settings – joined in because of the courageous leadership of our students. College and high school students underwent training to gather signatures. Contributions came in, ranging mostly from $5 to $100. While we ultimately were unable to secure a ballot title in time to start collecting signatures, we declared that we would not stop until victory for the wellbeing of our youth was won.
So, we turned our attention to the Legislature, crafting these two bills for the 2019 session. Our wording reflects the most reasonable legal concepts adopted in seven other states in the years before Parkland. All have been challenged in court and all have been upheld.
This is not a dispute about the Second Amendment. It is about public safety and public health. HB 3223 and HB 3265 do not confiscate weapons. Rather, they call for common sense registration of currently owned assault weapons, modification of large-capacity magazines and the banning of future sales of both. They are supported by those who own guns and those who do not, by people of faith and people of good will. As responsible adults, we must consider and make laws that protect the wellbeing of our young people, as we did with seat belts.
Why assault weapons and large capacity magazines? The majority of mass shootings have involved these military-style weapons, created only for the battlefield, not for our communities. The physical cost of human life is appalling, but the health implications for our young, and quite frankly all of us, go much deeper.
We know the death and injury these weapons can inflict. Think also about the emotional impact of these weapons used in school shootings. The current generation of students, from preschoolers to high school seniors, has never lived without lockdown drills and the fear of gun violence in their schools, shopping malls and houses of worship. The social impact is equally great as we debate how to make our schools safer for students and teachers. As spiritual leaders, we know the cost is profound if we allow lives to be endangered and taken. We need to be bold and responsible enough to act.
To those who oppose these bills, we respect you and your freedom to speak out. As faith leaders, we will continue to take the high ground of respect and love for every person, including those who passionately disagree. We call upon you as fellow residents of this beautiful state to do the same. Intimidation, anonymous threats and hateful messages directed at us, our elected leaders or anyone else have no place in our great democracy that we all cherish.
Together with a network of thousands, we are saying the time to act is now and we expect our Legislature to do so by hearing and, then, passing these bills. When the governor signs these bills into law, it will be the youth of Oregon, who have called us all to be our better selves, who will fill her office and cheer. Yes, Oregon, the time to lift every voice for our children’s wellbeing is now. Contact your legislators and tell them you agree.
Other leaders of the Lift Every Voice Coalition are Imam Muhammad Najieb, senior imam of the Muslim Community Center of Portland and Rev. Lynne Smouse Lopez, senior pastor of Ainsworth United Church of Christ.