PORTLAND, Ore. — Tuesday’s tragic mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers has catapulted the issues of gun control and mass shootings to the center of the political stage, both nationally and in Oregon.
KGW reached out to each of the three candidates running for governor of Oregon – Democrat Tina Kotek, Republican Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson – to get their thoughts about gun control laws in Oregon and how they would approach the issue if elected.
All three women served in the Oregon Legislature until about six months ago when they each resigned to pursue their respective bids for governor, so they also have voting records when it comes to gun control legislation.
Oregon has passed three key gun control measures in recent years: A law requiring background checks on private firearm sales in 2015, a Red Flag law in 2017 and a firearm safe storage law in 2021. On all three measures, Kotek voted Yes and Johnson voted No. Drazan was elected to the legislature in 2018 and voted No on the safe storage law.
Johnson told KGW she didn’t want to see discussions about mass shootings “send us off into our ideological corners.” When asked about her ideas to make Oregon safer, she said she would start with prioritizing stronger mental health prevention and intervention in schools and on the streets.
She also said she would work with school districts, including parents and teachers, to support “what they deem appropriate in their communities” in terms of school safety infrastructure, and fight for a state budget to fund those improvements.
“And finally, much more aggressive enforcement of our existing laws,” she added. “We’ve got plenty of laws on the books. What we need is the manpower, the money to enforce those.”
Johnson served in the legislature as a Democrat but often stood out as one of the most conservative members of her caucus, including on the issue of gun control. She received an A rating from the National Rifle Association in 2018.
When pressed about her voting record on gun control measures in Oregon, Johnson became defensive, arguing that many of Oregon’s gun control measures have been ideological and impractical. Here’s that exchange:
Pat Dooris, KGW: I see that back in 2015 you voted against background checks for private sales, in 2017 you voted against the red flag law and in 2021 against the safe storage law. Would you really take action to protect Oregonians?
Johnson: Absolutely. I believe, and I am a gun owner, I absolutely believe that one of the responsibilities of owning a gun, and law-abiding citizens do this, is to provide safe storage. I heard from law enforcement people that some of these laws, that the ways they were written – and I'm looking at the language on the four corners of the bill – were unenforceable, dangerous for public safety personnel and I thought it in some instances lacked due process. And when I'm hearing that from law enforcement professionals – I have to listen to them, they're the guys who are out on the front lines in the street. What I want to focus on, Pat, are solutions that are practical, not ideological. And I think that's reflective of my voting record.
Dooris: Alright, thank you. But one more time on those – are those really ideological bills? The private background checks for private sales and that red flag law and the lock up the guns – none of that sounds really ideological.
Johnson: Well, I'm concerned about its enforceability and its practicality.
Dooris: Alright. Could you talk about that a little more? Why do you think they're not enforceable?
Johnson: Well, I – there's not going to be law enforcement at every private sale transaction. If you and I buy sell a gun, how practically do you have that tracked?
Dooris: Alright, but what about-
Johnson: Pat, let me go back and just say this more. The solution is not passing more laws for law abiding citizens.
Tina Kotek described mass shootings as a uniquely American problem, and said she thinks gun violence is preventable. She said she fought for all three of Oregon’s recent gun control measures while serving as House Speaker, calling them “common sense” and “very basic things.”
She listed several additional laws that she said could make Oregon safer if passed, including banning assemble-at-home “ghost guns,” banning people from owning guns who have been convicted of hate crimes and raising the minimum age to buy an assault weapon from 18 to at least 21.
“As we saw with the shooter (in Uvalde),” she said. “(He turned) 18, went out and bought an assault rifle.”
She also said the state needed to make greater investments in mental health treatment and preventative care.
“It’s not the only solution, and I worry when we just talk about that, but it is part of the discussion we have to have,” she said.
KGW reached out to Drazan’s campaign on Wednesday and Thursday but was told she was travelling outside the state and unavailable for an interview. She provided the following statement:
“For any mother, what happened yesterday in Texas is our worst nightmare. No parent should have to worry about their child's safety at school. No child should have to fear violence taking place in their own classroom. My heart is broken over the lives lost in this horrific and evil act.
We can and must do more to protect our kids. That includes investing in school resource officers and ensuring that individuals who should not have access to a classroom do not gain access to a classroom. As governor, my budget will provide dedicated funding to strengthen school safety measures to prevent these kinds of heinous attacks from occurring.”