Opinion: Oregon should follow New Zealand’s lead on gun reforms

Rev. W. J. Mark Knutson, Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana and Rev. Alcena Boozer March 24, 2019

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.

March 19, 2019

Response to the most recent shooting in New Zealand

We grieve with our Muslim brothers and sisters the tragic loss of life in the horrific mass shootings at the Al Noor and the Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. We commend Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for vowing to address, immediately, weaknesses in New Zealand’s gun laws, in particular military-style semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity magazines.

We urge the Oregon Legislature to follow that courageous path to make Oregon safer.  The New Zealand shooter used two semi-automatic military-style weapons to which he attached large-capacity magazines.  Military-grade weapons have no place in civilian life and are unnecessary for self-defense. Combined with Large-capacity ammunition magazines (LCMs) – 30, 50 and even 100 round magazines — these weapons have been the tools of choice in over 50% of the mass shootings in the past three decades, including:

•        Umpqua, OR (Umpqua Community College): AR-15 variation used; 9 died; 7 injured

•        Orlando, FL (Pulse Nightclub): AR-15s used; 49 people died; 53 injured

•        Las Vegas, NV: AR-15s used; 58 died, over 400 injured

•        Parkland, FL: AR-15 used; 17 students and staff died, many others injured

Because shooters using LMCs can fire at large numbers of people without taking the time to reload, those in the line of fire do not have a chance to escape, law enforcement and even bystanders do not have the chance to intervene, and the number of lives shattered by senseless acts of gun violence increases dramatically.  Incidents where assault weapons or large-capacity ammunition magazines were used resulted in 135% more people shot and 57% more killed, compared to other mass shootings.

At least 7 states and the District of Columbia have imposed bans and/or strict regulation of such military-style, semi-automatic weapons, and those restrictions have been upheld as permissible under the United States Constitution by reviewing courts. Our proposed legislation will require current owners who want to keep these weapons to pass a background check and then register each weapon. Future sale and manufacture of assault weapons would be banned altogether.  This is a modest and rational approach to making Oregon a safer place for our children and our communities.

March 4, 2019

Press Release: Bills to Limit High-Capacity Magazines and Regulate Military-Style Firearms Introduced Into the Oregon Legislature

Portland - Two bills that will reduce the number and availability of military-style weapons and ammunition in Oregon have been introduced in the Oregon legislative session. HB 3265, a bill to limit high-capacity magazines to ten rounds, was introduced on February 28. HB 3223, a bill to regulate currently owned military-style firearms and end the future sale, transfer and manufacture of those weapons was introduced on February 28th.

The bills were filed by Lift Every Voice Oregon (LEVO), a coalition of faith-based communities, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist, and other people of good will. LEVO’s members urge Oregon legislators to reduce the fear imposed upon children, as well as adults, of every age by the threat of mass shootings.

Rev. W. J. Mark Knutson, Senior Pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church,and Chair of Lift Every Voice Oregon, states the goal: “As people of faith we have always opposed violence and sought the well-being of our children and youth. After Parkland, this took on new urgency and we formed the Lift Every Voice Coalition to declare, now is the time to act for the well-being of every Oregonian. HB 3223 and HB 3265 will say to our young leaders, your voices have been heard. These bills will be a bellwether for the nation on what people of faith and people of goodwill of all ages can accomplish for the common good.”

The bill to limit high-capacity magazines, HB 3265, will prohibit the future sale, transfer, and manufacture in Oregon of any firearm magazine that holds more than ten rounds of ammunition. Under current Oregon law, large game hunters in Oregon are limited to just five rounds in a magazine when hunting large game such as elk.

HB 3223 which will regulate currently owned assault weapons, will prohibit the future sale, transfer, and manufacture of military-style assault weapons in Oregon. Gun owners who legally own firearms described in the bill may continue to keep the firearms but must register them with the Oregon State Police.

June 12, 2018

Frustrated AMA adopts sweeping policies to cut gun violence

LINDSEY TANNER, Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — With frustration mounting over lawmakers' inaction on gun control, the American Medical Association on Tuesday pressed for a ban on assault weapons and came out against arming teachers as a way to fight what it calls a public health crisis.

At its annual policymaking meeting, the nation's largest physicians group bowed to unprecedented demands from doctor-members to take a stronger stand on gun violence — a problem the organizations says is as menacing as a lethal infectious disease.

June 6, 2018

A statement of support for IP 43 from The Right Rev Michael Hanley, The Episcopal Bishop of Oregon:

"As a member of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, I am committed to taking steps – both personally and pastorally in my ministry as Bishop of the Diocese of Oregon – that seek to promote public safety and diminish gun violence. Those actions include participating in public liturgy such as March For Our Lives and supporting common sense gun safety measures. For this reason, I support Initiative Petition 43 and Lift Every Voice Oregon in their efforts to reduce the future sales and transfers of assault weapons and high capacity magazines in our state. I am thankful for the people of all faiths training to gather signatures to get IP43 on the November ballot and encourage all who are willing and able to lend their support to this measure."

May 24, 2018

May 24, 2018

Statement from the U.S. Conference of (Roman) Catholic Bishops :

We call on Catholics and all people of good will to urge their Senators and Representative to support policy and legislative measures that:

  1. promote mercy and peacebuilding in our communities by implementing reasonable regulations on firearms such as:

    1. Require universal background checks for all gun purchases;

    2. Limit civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines;

    3. Make gun trafficking a federal crime, and;

    4. Improve access to mental health care for those who may be prone to violence,

  2. promote restorative justice by passing legislation to support important reentry programs that help people avoid re-offending,

  3. improve access to health care and treatment for those with addiction and mental health needs.

May 23, 2018

Oregon Evangelical Lutherans Speak Out on Gun Violence

Over the weekend the Oregon Synod of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, gathered for their Annual Assembly, overwhelming passed a Resolution calling on churches to “take action as they deem right” to “work to ban the sale of assault weapons, large capacity magazines (holding more than 10 rounds) and bump stocks in Oregon.”
     “We know Measure 43 will be before our state this Fall.” reflected Oregon Synod Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke. “However, Measure 43 is not specifically referenced in this Resolution. Individuals throughout the state will differ on how best to keep our communities safe, and we respect the conversation.”
     “We have intentionally taken up the call of our nation’s youth who cry out ‘Enough is enough!’” said Brauer-Rieke. “Now is absolutely the right time to address gun violence. Our schools are not safe. Our communities are at risk. Young people suffer from our inaction.”

May 10, 2018

May 10, 2018

Central Conference of American Rabbis: Resolution on Assault Weapons and High Capacity Magazine Ban

BE IT RESOLVED that the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

  • Calls on State and Federal Legislatures to renew and make permanent a ban on assault rifles and to include a ban on high capacity magazines and bump stocks (all of which to be defined by law); and

  • Calls on our members to lead congregations and communities in advocacy to bring about these bans; and

  • Publically supports the teens, including NFTY, who are leading the call for school safety through the ban of assault rifles and high capacity magazines.

Full text here.

Observer: 'Now is the Time to Act'

Moved by gun violence, faith leaders call for action

Dana Lynn Barbar, Portland Observer | 4/3/2018

Protecting children and teenagers from gun violence is the driving force of a new grass roots effort to regulate semiautomatic weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines in Oregon.

A diverse group of faith leaders in Portland are working together to gather signatures for a proposed ballot measure that if approved by voters would require that existing semiautomatic weapons and large capacity magazines be registered by their owners, as well prohibit the future sale and transfer of these weapons and magazines statewide.

Rev. W. J. Mark Knutson, senior pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in northeast Portland, is chairing the ballot initiative campaign, along with chief petitioners Rev. Alcena Boozer, director emerita at St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal Church in northeast Portland and a former principal at Jefferson High School, and Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel. Imam Muhammad A. Najieb, director of the Muslim Community Center of Portland, is campaign treasurer.

At this time, the initiative is called “Lift Every Voice, Oregon Measure 43.” If the required number of signatures are gathered and approved, it will be on the ballot in November.