Oregon voters will cast multiple votes this November that could impact how easily people in the state can access firearms. In addition to voting on a ballot measure that would introduce a new permit requirement to purchase firearms, Oregon voters will be electing a new governor. In responses to an Oregon Public Broadcasting survey sent to all three candidates, they laid out vastly different thoughts on what the state’s approach to gun ownership should look like.
Democratic nominee for governor Tina Kotek said she would support policies keeping guns away from people who want to hurt themselves or others, thinks the legal age to buy some firearms should be raised from 18 to 21, said safety training should be required to buy a firearm and supports limiting the sale of high capacity magazines.
“There is more work to do. It shouldn’t be dangerous to shop or work at your local grocery store,” Kotek wrote in her answers. “As Governor, I will push to invest in locally-driven, evidence-based violence prevention programs.”
A Rand study of common gun policies found limited evidence that raising the age limit reduces suicide and found the evidence was inconclusive as to whether or not the higher age limit would impact violent crime, mass shootings and unintentional injuries. There is some evidence that banning high-capacity magazines might raise prices in the months before a ban takes effect but the impact on things like mass shootings or violent crime was inconclusive.
Unaffiliated candidate, former Democratic state senator and proud machine gun owner Betsy Johnson said she thinks more needs to be done to keep guns “away from people who should not have them.”
But Johnson’s platform stands in contrast to her voting record in the Oregon Senate.
Johnson said she would support a stronger background check system that integrates information from across jurisdictions and incorporates juvenile and school records. In 2015, she voted against expanding background checks to cover private sales.
Like Kotek, Johnson also said she supports raising the age to buy some firearms from 18 to 21 and “do more in the areas of mental health care and school and community safety.”
“These are practical ideas that will improve public safety,” Johnson said. “I’m the only candidate for governor who could lead a reasonable, productive conversation that combines mental health, social services, law enforcement and gun safety.”
At a TEDxPortland event in May, just after the mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas elementary school, Johnson was interrupted by members of the crowd demanding she address gun control.
After falsely claiming the style of a gun doesn’t dictate lethality — a 9mm handgun will produce fewer casualties and less severe injuries than a .50 caliber machine gun — Johnson steered the conversation toward mental health. She said law enforcement needs to be better at seeing early warning signals and society needs to be “continuously more vigilant about what those signals are.”
In her responses to OPB, Johnson wrote she “will lead with practical solutions to keep guns away from those who should not have them.”
As a senator, however, Johnson voted against attempts to do just that.
In 2017, she voted against the state’s extreme risk protection order legislation allowing immediate family or roommates to petition a judge to remove someone’s guns if they pose a risk to themselves or others.
Studies suggest these restraining orders, commonly called red flag laws, can reduce firearm suicide. Johnson was the only Democrat to vote against the legislation, which passed by a razor-thin margin.
Since being adopted, Oregon’s red flag law has become increasingly popular across the state, including in more conservative rural counties. In 2018, the first year the law was in effect, 74 petitions were filed in the state. In 2022, 80 were filed in the first three months of the year.
In 2021, Johnson also voted against the state’s safe storage law. The legislation bans guns from the state capitol and some schools and requires gun owners to secure their firearms when not in use and report stolen firearms within 72 hours of realizing they’re missing.
Republican nominee Christine Drazan kept her answers to OPB’s questions about gun laws brief. When asked what, if any, changes she would suggest to Oregon’s gun laws, Drazan offered up one sentence.
“Oregon already has among the strictest gun laws in the nation,” she said. “We must fully enforce existing laws to ensure that guns are not in the hands of criminals and the public is protected.”
In an interview with the Bend Bulletin, Drazan was asked what needs to be done about gun violence in the state and Drazan focused on the dramatic increase in shootings seen in Portland.
“What we need to reduce gun violence across all of our state is to have more law enforcement presence,” Drazan said.
Research suggests that for every 15-20 additional police officers, one homicide is prevented. But pursuing low-level arrests and so-called broken windows policing does not reduce violent crime rates, according to studies.
Suicide made up 77% of gun deaths in Oregon in 2020. Drazan didn’t address mental health or Oregon’s persistently high suicide rate.
Drazan told the Bend Bulletin she thinks the state’s red flag law lacks due process and that she’d change it if elected. She didn’t explain what she would change, however, and the law already includes a process for a person to challenge a judge’s order if they feel it is unwarranted.
Like Johnson, Drazan voted against the safe storage law. But in casting her vote, Drazan pushed back on the more hardline elements of the Republican party who wanted her to lead a Republican walkout and deny the legislature a quorum. She instead used her time on the floor before voting to denounce hardline groups’ misleading information and “aggressive swarm mentality.”
More recently, Drazan has embraced some of those very hardline groups whose misinformation and tactics she repudiated. Far-right organizer and former militia leader BJ Soper recently appeared alongside Drazan at a campaign event where he warned the gathered supporters of a coming “socialist, communist assault”' heading their way.
Soper participated in the 2015 Sugar Pine Standoff alongside the Oath Keepers militia as well as the 2016 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He now runs the Central Oregon Chapter of People’s Rights, Ammon Bundy’s network of militia groups, COVID conspiracy theorists, and other far-right people who stand ready to help each other against “government criminals.”
Earlier this year, California enacted a law that allows private citizens to sue gun manufacturers and sellers for making and selling guns banned in the state. The law is modeled after Texas’ abortion law which allowed private citizens to sue individuals who get or assist in abortions.
The law is meant to help skirt the gun industry’s unique immunity thanks to the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA, which shields manufacturers from liability when their products are used to commit crimes.
Each candidate was asked if they would support a similar law. Kotek said she would, citing that long-standing immunity. Drazan and Johnson both said they would not.
Voters will also be voting on Measure 114, a proposed law that would ban high-capacity magazines, and require a completed background check and safety course to buy a firearm.
The Rand study found only limited evidence that a permitting process would reduce suicide.
Kotek said she endorsed the measure, which she called common sense.
Johnson, who voted against the state’s safe storage law and legislation to temporarily take guns from people who might hurt themselves, said “we need to do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, kids and the mentally ill.”
She said Measure 114 was an “attempt by the far left to take as many guns as they can away from law-abiding gun owners.”
Measure 114 does not ban any firearms, nor does it limit the number of guns one person can purchase. And permits would not be required to own a gun, only to purchase one.
Drazan similarly does not support the measure.