Students Join Oregon Effort To Ban Certain Semi-Automatic Weapons

By Lauren Dake (OPB)
Portland, Ore. March 23, 2018 11:25 p.m.

Mackenzie Knutson’s first lockdown drill was in kindergarten.

She huddled with her fellow students on one corner of the rainbow carpet and sat in silence with the lights shut off and doors locked.


For most her life, Knutson said, she’s had anxiety about being the target of a mass shooting. When she goes to the movies, the 15-year-old mentally notes the nearest exit. When she thinks of her younger sister at a public school, she worries about who could enter the school.

Now, the Central Catholic High School sophomore is helping lead the charge to ban certain semi-automatic weapons in Oregon.

Related: 'We Won't Stand For Inaction': Student Walkouts Mark Florida Shooting

She's part of a renewed national effort to strengthen gun control laws, one that has raised alarms in many rural and conservative corners of Oregon, where people have long feared the idea that government might take away their guns.

Many students are finding inspiration from the teenagers who mobilized after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, Knutson said.

“Knowing that people my age can make an impact on the country, on the world, makes me feel relieved and reassured that people actually listen to us,” she said.

One of the people listening is Knutson's uncle, Pastor Mark Knutson of the Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland. He's one of the chief petitioners of Initiative Petition 43, a proposal to ban assault-style weapons, which would outlaw the manufacturing and sale of certain semi-automatic rifles and pistols in the state starting in 2019.

The initiative defines these guns as "assault weapons" if they have any of a number of characteristics, such as a detachable magazine or a fixed magazine that can take more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

If passed, the initiative would also require gun owners who have these weapons to register or surrender them, or face felony charges. A violation would be a Class B felony. There would be exemptions for military and law enforcement officials.


The pastor said the movement will be led by students but supported by an interfaith religious group from across the state. The campaign must gather more than 88,000 signatures by July 6, which isn’t much time for a campaign intent on using an all-volunteer staff.

The interfaith group will be gathering signatures at the March for Our Lives events, which will be taking place on Saturday across the country, including Oregon and Washington. Those backing the ballot effort hope to deliver at least 1,000 signatures in Salem on Monday so they can start the process of crafting a ballot title for the measure.

Lincoln students drop letters addressed to the survivors of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting.

Lincoln students drop letters addressed to the survivors of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra / OPB

The opposition will be fierce and the campaign could turn ugly. Many gun-rights groups have said the controversial proposal goes too far and is attack on their constitutional rights.

Lars Larson, the conservative talk show radio host, posted on Facebook warning that “guns will be confiscated” writing the “gun insanity” is beginning in Oregon. “I hope voters defeat this soundly even if it makes the ballot,” he wrote. “Otherwise, listen closely for the jackboots on your front porch.”

Oregon Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, urged pro-gun rights people to contact Knutson and the other chief petitioners on Facebook.

Kurt Eichenwald, who writes for Vanity Fair and has thousands of Twitter followers, retaliated and posted the Oregon lawmaker’s Social Security and personal family information online, according to The Oregonian.

Related: Oregon Governor Signs 1st Gun Law Since Florida Massacre

Gov. Kate Brown said she believes Congress should take action on so-called assault weapons. “However, if Congress refuses to take action, the governor will,” her campaign spokesman said in a statement.

GOP gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler said he will wait to see whether it qualifies for the ballot before taking a stance on the measure.

Republican Greg Wooldridge, also running for governor, said taking away people’s guns won’t reduce violence. "It's time the extreme left worked to solve the real issues facing our state and quit attempting to divide our people over dog whistle political games,” Wooldridge said.

Knutson said he hopes the campaign on both sides can be civil.

“The time is now,” to pass this measure, he said, “Do we want our kindergarteners hiding under their desks on the rainbow carpet?”

Dirk VanderHart contributed to this report.