Interfaith leaders to propose assault weapon ban
SALEM — As students walked out of schools around the nation Wednesday to urge federal gun safety measures, a coalition of interfaith leaders announced that they will propose an assault rifle ban in Oregon on the November statewide ballot.
The group initially had planned to try to get the proposal on the November 2020 ballot.
Growing momentum nationwide for action on gun violence and inaction by Congress and the state Legislature prompted the leaders to launch their campaign earlier, said W. J. Mark Knutson, pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland who will serve as one of three chief petitioners for the initiative.
"Now is the time," Knutson said in a phone interview Wednesday with the Pamplin/EO Capital Bureau. "We can't wait any longer. Given the momentum and energy and the networks we have, both interfaith and secular, we are ready to roll. It will be a tight timeline, and there will be opposition, of course, but we are going to make an incredible effort."
The name of the campaign was scheduled to be announced at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Augustana church. Chief petitioners plan to submit paperwork for the initiative Monday, Knutson said. The proposed ban will likely include assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, though organizers were still finalizing language Wednesday.
The student walkouts Wednesday marked one month since a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and faculty.
The walkouts, organized by EMPOWER, were meant as a memorial to those who died and as a protest to urge lawmakers to ban assault weapons, like the one used in the Parkland shooting. Demonstrators also want Congress to require universal background checks before firearm sales and to pass a law that allows courts to disarm people who are at risk of committing violent acts.
About 500 students and faculty walked out of Willamette University at 10 a.m. Wednesday and marched on the Oregon State Capitol, which is across the street from the campus.
Students chanted: "Enough is enough," "The NRA (National Rifle Association) has got to go," and "No more silence; end gun violence."
Samantha Coleman, a junior at Willamette University, said she would like to see stronger background checks before gun sales.
A 17-year-old student at her former high school in Culver City, California, was arrested Feb. 28 for making threats against the school. A gun at his home was voluntarily turned over to law enforcement, according to local media reports.
"When I heard about that, it definitely hit close to home," Coleman said.
To get an assault weapon ban on Oregon's November ballot, the chief petitioners will need to gather more than 88,000 signatures by July 6.
The coalition already had a volunteer force of 300 people to collect signatures as of Wednesday, Knutson said. They expected to double or triple that number by the official launch of the campaign Thursday, he said.
Other chief petitioners for the initiative petition are Rev. Alcena Boozer, former principal of Jefferson High School and pastor emeritus of St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal Church, and Rabbi Michael Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel.
Since the Parkland shooting, 16 more mass shootings have occurred in the country, according news reports compiled by the Gun Violence Archive. A mass shooting is defined as involving four or more victims.
Oregon has experienced school shootings Thurston High School in Springfield in 1998, Springwater Trail High School in Gresham in 2007, Reynolds High School in Troutdale in 2014 and Umpqua Community College in Roseburg in 2015.