Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler on Friday took a hardline stand against a proposed ballot measure that would ban military-style, semi-automatic firearms in Oregon.
Buehler, a state representative from Bend, said that as governor he would not enforce Initiative Petition 43 if it makes it to the November ballot and is approved by voters.
“It’s not constitutional,” Buehler said at a Portland radio debate with his two main GOP rivals. “And that’s what it takes being a leader, is to stand up and say, ‘These things are wrong.’”
IP43 is a proposal that seeks to ban some types of weapons and high-capacity magazines from being sold or owned in Oregon.
Retired Naval aviator Greg Wooldridge said he would also refuse to enforce the ban if it became law.
However, Bend businessman Sam Carpenter disagreed. While he said he strongly opposed the measure, he said, “I’m going to follow the law” if it is approved by voters.
The three Republican candidates for governor were appearing in the only debate of the primary season. The hourlong event was moderated by Lars Larson, a veteran conservative talk show host, and was carried on a 24-station network in the Northwest.
The measure was introduced by a coalition of interfaith religious leaders and students in the wake of the mass shootings at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February. Proponents face a tough timeline for qualifying the measure for the November ballot. It would require people who own firearms covered by the ban to go through new background checks and register the guns with the state to keep them — or surrender them to authorities or make them inoperable.
After the debate, Buehler said that he thought IP43 was unconstitutional because it could force gun owners to surrender guns they already own.
“This is not taking guns away from people who are mentally ill or people who have been domestic abusers,” Buehler said. “But these are law-abiding citizens who previously bought their firearms.”
Christian Gaston, a campaign spokesman for Brown, said Buehler is “confusing the office with his ego” and that the “governor’s job is to ensure that Oregon’s laws are being fairly enforced, not unilaterally decided by someone with a regal sense of entitlement.”
At another moment in the debate, the three candidates did agree that they would once again allow executions to proceed in Oregon. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who is running for re-election, has continued a moratorium on the death penalty that was started by her predecessor, John Kitzhaber, in 2011.
“Because I believe in life, I don’t believe people should be killing other people without accountability,” Wooldridge said. “Because of that, I will bring back the death penalty.”
Buehler said the death penalty is in the Oregon Constitution and needs to be followed.
“Until the people of Oregon overturn the death penalty, I sign the warrants” that would allow executions to proceed, Buehler said.
While Buehler has said he is confident of victory in Tuesday’s primary, some polling has suggested that Carpenter might be within striking distance. Buehler continued to aggressively question Carpenter’s character and said he wasn’t sure if he would support Carpenter if the latter won the primary.
For his part, Carpenter — who has closely tied himself to President Donald Trump — repeatedly criticized Buehler for not being more supportive of the president.
For example, Carpenter said Buehler wouldn’t have much success trying to change federal forest policies. “If you’re not cooperating with the president, if you’re not sitting down with the president, it’s not going to happen,” he said.
Buehler opened the debate by acknowledging he is “not the most conservative candidate running in this race.” But he said he’s fought hard against more taxes, government regulation and “a very liberal Democratic legislature.”