Opinion | Why Oregon's ballot initiative to curb gun deaths could work
Oregon Measure 114 on gun control gives hope for curbing gun deaths.
By Ari Davis, policy advisor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, and Lisa Geller, state affairs advisor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions
In May 2014, days after the mass shooting near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the satirical news site The Onion published a tragicomic headline that has resurfaced countless times in the eight years since: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”
The headline’s longevity — it made the rounds several times this year after shootings in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas, and several other cities across the country — suggests that nothing has changed since it was first published.
But that’s not true. A lot has changed since 2014, especially as it pertains to gun violence: The gun epidemic has gotten significantly worse. Despite heroic efforts by advocates and some lawmakers, the number of gun deaths set new records last year as many states weakened their gun laws through permitless carry and stand-your-ground legislation. At the same time, the Supreme Court made it easier to carry guns in public.
In this climate, voters in Oregon have fought back. Heading into the midterm elections, voters took it upon themselves to strengthen gun laws by proposing Measure 114, a ballot initiative that requires a background check, a license and safety training to buy firearms in the state. The measure also prohibits large-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Oregon’s measure is particularly important because Congress, the courts and many state legislatures have done so little to contain the violence. Meanwhile, the number of gun deaths in the United States has skyrocketed — in fact, our analysis of the data shows that guns drove a recent spike in homicides and suicides.
Between 2019 and 2020, gun homicides jumped by nearly 35% to 19,384, the largest one-year increase ever recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New provisional CDC data finds that gun homicides continued to increase in 2021. Gun suicides also reached an all-time high of 26,322, increasing 8% from 2020 to 2021. Our analysis of this CDC provisional data found that this was the largest one-year increase ever recorded.
At the same time, homicides and suicides carried out by methods other than a gun have not increased at such rates. Our analysis demonstrates that during that same period, homicides by other means rose only 6%. The numbers are even starker for suicides — excluding suicides involving a gun, the rate actually fell by 8% in the past two years.
Contrary to those who argue that more guns means more safety, the steep rise in homicides and suicides by guns — per the CDC, total gun deaths were a record 48,832 in 2021 compared with 33,594 the year The Onion article was published — coincides with equally sharp increase in gun sales and the weakening of gun violence prevention measures in many states.
From January 2019 through April 2021 alone, some 7.5 million U.S. adults became new gun owners, collectively exposing, in addition to themselves, more than 11 million more people — including millions of children — to household firearms, according to researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities.