Oregon voters were narrowly favoring one of the country’s strictest gun control measures, a long-sought goal of a grassroots faith-based campaign, but the race was too close to call, preliminary Tuesday results indicated.
Partial returns tallied as of 10 p.m. showed Measure 114 leading, 51% to 49%.
The returns represent 63%, or 1,215,644 votes, of the expected statewide turnout calculated by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Measure 114 would require Oregonians to pay a $65 fee for a permit to buy a gun and would ban the sale or transfer of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
It also would close the so-called Charleston loophole by requiring state police to complete full background checks on buyers with permits before any gun sale or transfer. Under federal law now, firearms dealers can sell guns without a completed background check if the check takes longer than three business days.
“We began this historic campaign to save lives with faith, and we remain hopeful as we wait for all of the votes to be counted,” said the Rev. Mark Knutson, one of the chief petitioners, speaking from Portland’s Augustana Lutheran Church where supporters gathered Tuesday night.
“We thank everyone that helped put Measure 114 on the ballot and supported us every step of the way, gathering signatures, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and turning those precious ballots in,” he said. “We are eternally grateful for your strength and dedication. As we wait for the final results, our hearts are full and our heads are held high, and we’re keeping hope alive.”
The measure was leading in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. The highest support was in Multnomah County, with 75% to 25% in favor. The measure was leading in Lane County at 55% to 45% and in Deschutes County at 51% to 49%.
Partial results were strikingly different in Douglas, Jackson, Coos and Harney counties, where voters were rejecting the measure. In Jackson County, 59% voted against the measure with 41% in support and in Douglas County, 71% were against and 29% in favor.
The measure drew national attention, gaining support from mass shooting survivors including David Hogg, who became a gun control activist after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, and Joshua Friedland, who lost eight friends and classmates in the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg.
“We know that throughout U.S. history change rarely comes from the federal government,” Hogg said during the campaign. “Most often it comes from states and local governments, and this is an example of everyday people using their state government and working together to create a safer community to stop this violence before it touches them, too.”
Friedland, now a forestry student seeking his master’s degree at the Yale School of the Environment, said he suffered anxiety and depression and was on a suicide watch for months after the Roseburg carnage. He said he expects the measure could cut down on impulsive suicides because people won’t be able to purchase a gun as quickly as they can now.
The chief petitioners behind the measure — Knutson of Portland’s Augustana Lutheran Church, the church musical director Marilyn Keller and Congregation Beth Israel Rabbi Michael Cahana — awaited the results with other supporters at the church. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., stopped by the church and spoke with supporters in the church basement.
Lift Every Voice Oregon, the interfaith group that crafted the measure, launched shortly after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting four years ago that killed 17 students and staff and injured 17 others. The group ran out of time to collect enough signatures for similar petitions that year. Bills reflecting the initiatives never got a hearing in the state Legislature in 2019 and the pandemic hampered signature-gathering efforts in 2020 and last year.
Days before the election, the backers marched to North Portland’s Dawson Park to urge support. Three people were killed in fatal shootings in or on the edge of the park in the last two years.
“We cannot stand idly by when our neighbor bleeds,” Cahana said. “It’s our attempt to make a difference.”
If the measure is approved, Oregon would join Washington, D.C., and 14 other states that have enacted similar permit-to-purchase gun laws. Nine states and Washington, D.C., have adopted laws banning large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Under proposal, anyone who wants to buy a gun would have had to obtain a permit, pay the anticipated fee, complete an approved firearms safety course at their own expense, submit a photo ID, be fingerprinted and pass a criminal background check.
Proponents raised $2.4 million during the campaign, with Connie Ballmer, a Seattle philanthropist and University of Oregon alumna, the top contributor, donating $750,000. Ballmer is married to billionaire Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft and current owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA basketball team.
Opponents raised a fraction of that, just over $200,000, and will draw a state penalty for late reporting of a $25,700 donation from a National Rifle Association fund based in Virginia, according to state officials.
Critics, including the Oregon Firearms Federation, the National Rifle Association and the Oregon Sportsmen’s Alliance, said the measure is costly and its unwieldy process would block prospective lawful gun owners
Kevin Starrett, director of the firearms federation, has argued the measure violates the Second Amendment and would be challenged in court. He called it “impossible to comply with” and said it won’t have the desired impact.
Mass shooters would still be able to get their hands on the millions of large-capacity magazines now in circulation and not regulated elsewhere in the country, he said.
On the eve of Election Day, the firearms federation sent out an email to voters, calling the race a “tight one,” and urging them to “stop the worst gun grab in the country.”
State police and local sheriff’s offices have anticipated needing more staff to process the permit applications and conduct the background checks. State police also would need more staff to create and maintain a new database to track the number of annual permit applications, denials and reasons for denials.
The ballot measure would cost state and local governments $55 million in the first biennium and about $50 million for each successive biennium to administer, according to a state financial impact committee.
The revenue to local governments from permit fees was projected to be up to $19.5 million annually based on an estimated 300,000 applications per year.
— Maxine Bernstein
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