Despite a list of pro-gun rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court over the past 13 years, Rev. Mark Knutson of Portland, Oregon, who has been advocating against gun access, gives one reason for his support of stricter firearms laws.
“This will save lives,” says Knutson, a pastor at Augustana Lutheran Church and chairman of the “Lift Every Voice Oregon—YES on Measure 114” campaign.
Knutson was the chief petitioner of the campaign in support of Oregon Measure 114, which narrowly passed in the midterm election in November. He described the campaign as “grassroots” and said it was in response to the recent shootings in the United States.
It was a well-funded campaign based on reports filed with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. “Lift Every Voice Oregon” spent just shy of $2.4 million.
The top three contributors to the campaign were Connie Ballmer of Bellevue, Washington, who contributed $750,000. Ballmer is an Oregon native and married to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Together, they have started several organizations to support charitable and political causes.
The National Education Association, a teacher’s union, contributed $500,000, and the 1630 Fund contributed $250,000. The 1630 Fund is described by the website Influencewatch.org as a possible “dark money” fund that supports progressive causes.
When asked about the fund, Knutson pointed out that, as a 501c4, it is not required to disclose its donors. He said the fund was set up to help progressive political campaigns.
Oregon Donors Who Opposed Measure 114
Groups opposing Measure 114 spent a combined $130,776.92. They included “Oregon Sportsmen Opposed to Gun Violence: Vote NO on 114” and the “Stop 114 Committee.”
The top three contributors were the Oregon Firearms Federation who contributed $31,000; Redmond Oregon-based Radian Weapons, a firearms maker, who donated $30,000; and Leupold & Stevens, based in Beaverton, Oregon, who contributed $12,500. Leupold & Stevens makes rifle scopes and related accessories.
The measure passed on a vote of 975,553 for 50.65 percent of the vote to 950,589 for 49.35 percent.
Measure 114 requires Oregonians apply for a permit to purchase firearms, along with background checks and certification from the purchaser for passing an approved safety course. The law also requires the state police to compile a firearms database, and prohibits the sale of magazines that can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition.
Knutson said these measures have improved safety and passed constitutional muster in other states. “As faith leaders, we can’t stand idly by,” he said.
But critics of the law, including several county sheriffs, say elements of the law—such as the magazine capacity ban and the firearms database—have already been ruled unconstitutional.
Since the November election, Oregon’s Measure 114 has been mired in court as pro-Second Amendment organizations sued to block the new law. On Dec. 2, Gun Owners of America (GOA), the Gun Owner’s Foundation, Gliss Asmussen, and Joseph Arnold sued in Harney County Circuit Court to block the law because it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.
On Dec. 7, the Oregon Supreme Court declined to hear the case, so the law is on hold until the lawsuit is decided.
Erich Pratt, GOA’s second vice president, issued this statement, “This is an exciting victory for our members in Oregon as the clock was winding down on securing relief from the onerous and unconstitutional requirements this law would have placed on current and future gun owners. We look forward to continuing the fight.”
Meanwhile, the Oregon State Police, tasked with implementing the permit and training requirements and enforcing a ban on magazines that hold more than ten rounds, have also asked a judge to delay the law’s enactment. The police said they had no process for issuing permits at the time.
Battle in New York
Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, is involved in a Second Amendment battle on the opposite side of the country. He denies that safety is motivating New York state officials.
“It’s about intimidation,” King said.
His organization sued New York state over its previous requirement that concealed weapons permit applicants show “proper cause,” or in other words, a legitimate reason for applying for a concealed firearm permit. According to King, the law was to disarm the populace while making exceptions for the wealthy and politically connected. The original case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court this year.
In New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Supreme Court decided last June that the proper cause requirement was unconstitutional. The court also held that Second Amendment regulations must align with constitutional text and history. In other words, since the Constitution did not mention “proper cause” and historically this had not been required, the state could not require it either.
Almost immediately, Gov. Kathy Hochul called the legislature into session to pass the Concealed Carry Improvement Act. The act removed mention of “proper cause” but expanded all other requirements. An applicant’s social media will be scrutinized, and must provide contact information for a list of close family and friends. The CCIA also requires 16 hours of training, including two hours of training on a firing range.
In addition, the new law expanded the government’s list of “sensitive places” where it sought to prohibit the carrying of firearms. This includes private property unless the property owner posts a sign granting permission or has given express permission to the permit holder.
Pro-Second Amendment groups, including Virginia-based Gun Owners of America, sued the state and a judge found several elements of the new law unconstitutional. However, that judge’s ruling is on hold as state officials vow to continue the fight.
What About Your Oath?
King said that the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association’s challenge to the law is on hold until the court decides on a lawsuit brought by Gun Owners of America.
Hochul’s office did not respond to a request for a statement by press time. She previously said in a statement in November, “We are pleased with today’s decision to keep provisions of the Concealed Carry Improvement Act in effect. Common-sense gun laws keep our streets and communities safe from senseless gun violence.
“Challenges to New York’s gun laws undermine public safety and increase the presence of guns in our communities. We will continue to fiercely defend the constitutionality of our laws and protect New Yorkers from these baseless attacks,” she said at the time.
King was not surprised by the comments. He said that in his experience, New York officials are bent on trying to defy their Constitutional authority.
“New York has a long history of doing what it wants,” King said. “The Democratic Party is very anti-gun and they are not afraid to push the issues. Where is the duty to your oath of office?”
Peter Tilem is a lawyer in White Plains, New York. He is a former New York City prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney with 31 years of experience. He said enacting stricter prohibitions after what seems to be a setback can be a bit confusing.
“It’s a real head-scratcher; the state acted as if they had won Bruen,” Tilem said of the case.
By taking a “we’re going to make it harder under good moral character and we’re going to make it harder to carry it anywhere” attitude, the state almost guaranteed a legal challenge. He pointed out that lawsuits keep both sides in legal limbo as they wait for a decision.
“At the end of the day, they’ve been very successful,” he said of the state.
Tilem said that doesn’t mean the law will withstand close scrutiny in light of the U.S. Constitution.
Knutson Prays For Civility
In Oregon, Knutson said he understands the opposition’s concern. He believes that as things settle, they will see the benefit of the Oregon law and broader gun control measures. He said that as the debate continues, his prayer is that people will remain civil.
“We just pray that people will be responsible in their dialog,” Knutson said. “We’re okay with (legal challenges). We want it done equitably, justly, and fair[ly]. We have full confidence it will (be upheld). We have to act for the sake of future generations. This will save lives.”
The other side maintains that supporting a responsible, law-abiding, well-armed citizenry of good samaritans is what will ultimately save lives in the face of criminals with access firearms.