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‘Put Gun Control on the Ballot’

Leaders urge people to sign petition

Gun control activists rooted in the black community, including Rev. Mark Knudson of Augustana Lutheran Church, are leading the effort by Lift Every Voice Oregon, a statewide group of interfaith leaders, to encourage voters to sign a petition to put gun control on the November ballot. PHOTO BY BEVERLY CORBELL

Passions are running high with shared outrage as massacres involving high-powered guns continue to roil America and deadly gun violence at home and across the country reach record levels.

Gun control activists rooted in the black community have joined Lift Every Voice Oregon, a statewide group of interfaith leaders, to encourage others to join them by adding their name to a petition to put gun control on the November ballot.

A news conference to rally the cause at Augustana Lutheran Church in northeast Portland followed the recent killings of 19 children and two of their teachers at a Texas elementary school and the deaths of 10 Black grocery store shoppers killed by an alleged white teenage racist.

Speaker after speaker shared their outrage at the massacres, and they all had one goal: To get signatures on their gun control petition. Lift Every Voice Oregon has received approval of titles for two ballot measures, Initiative Petitions 17 and 18.

They are pushing for signatures on IP 17 for this year, while they plan to bring IP 18 to the state legislature in its next session.

Black activist and musician Marilyn Keller, one of the three chief petitioners of IP 17, shared her disgust with gun deaths, saying she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired, and we who believe in freedom cannot wait.”

If this petition doesn’t make it on the ballot, Keller said, it would be another two years before it can be attempted again.

“Can you imagine how many thousands of lives could be lost in two years? I can. I don’t want to see it,” she said. “Until the killing of children, the killing of Black people, of Jews, of Muslims, Ukrainians, until the killing of other people is as abhorrent as us stepping into a pool of sewage, we need to move, we need to move now.”

Keller said that Oregon is the only West Coast state that doesn’t have “common sense” gun laws.

“Washington has passed them, California has them at the legislative level,” she said. “Will we stand still and allow this opportunity to pass without doing anything?”

Keller is urging everyone to visit to add their names to the petition.

People can print the signature sheet, sign it and mail it back to the Lift Every Voice address listed on the website. They are also asking for volunteers and donations for added support.

If the measure passes it will require background checks before a gun purchase, safety training, a permit to acquire firearms, photo ID and fingerprint for a state police firearm permit database, and would prohibit magazines of more than 10 rounds.

Rabbi Michael Cahana, also a chief petitioner, raised his voice in anguish over the great toll of mass shootings.

“How long, oh Lord, how long do we have to endure? How long do we have to gather together after another mass murder? Of children, of people in the grocery store, people going about their ordinary lives, wiped out at the hands of a murderer using weapons of war,” he said. “How long? Dr. King told us not long.”

Cahana said our humanity must not treat these killings as normal and instead must make changes to make a difference.

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” he said. “Action is what is needed right now and we are going to act.”

He said gun control laws work because they are effective against mass murder, but they also stop other murders and suicides that happen every day.

“Guns and gun violence is an everyday occurrence, and these laws have been proven to make a difference, to make sure that the people who shouldn’t have guns do not have access to those guns,” he said. “To help responsible gun owners use their guns effectively. We can't just stand idly by and watch our children be murdered. We have to act.”

Augustana's pastor Rev. Mark Knutson, and the third chief petitioner, moderated the press conference and opened it by saying that "love is active, not passive.

“We are here because we have been mourning and weeping, and we cannot imagine what the families are going through. But as parents we know how we would feel,” he said.

Another speaker, Rev. Andrea Cano, interim president of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, said she can’t count the times “we have gathered together like this, imploring our elected officials and imploring one another to take steps for gun control."

But the fact that the petition could be on the ballot is inspiring other states and has received many emails from other ecumenical executives, Cano said.

“They are curious and hoping that we will succeed with what we’re doing. They’re in that fight with us today,” she said.

Cano, who was wearing purple, the color of mourning, and at times speaking in Spanish, noted that most of the children killed in Uvalde, Texas had Hispanic surnames.

“Uvalde is our Sandy Hook,” she said. “So I ask, I implore not only the Latino community, but all our communities to sign these petitions as soon as possible, to help fund this process, to be involved in this process, from one end of the state to the other. My prayer is that we no long continue to be contradictory and complicit,” she continued. “If we don’t sign those signatures, we are complicit.”

Speaker after speaker spoke with raw emotion about the mass murders and the need to take action. Rev. Knutson led the call for the Augustana Peace Bell to toll 21 times for all the lives lost in Texas.

“Our nation is in jeopardy today,” said Rev. Linda Jaramillo, past chair of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. “Weapons of war do not belong in our homes, on our streets, in our communities and in this state. We must lift every voice and say no more. The soul of this nation depends on it.”

And Rev. Cecil Prescod of Ainsworth United Church of Christ had strong words for legislators.

“It’s blasphemy for using prayers to hide while you won’t pass laws to keep our kids from dying,” he said. “We will offer our thoughts and prayers, but we expect you to legislate, to make policy and to change. How much more can we bear, oh Lord, how much more can we endure?”

--Beverly Corbell

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