Gun reform on the ballot after string of devastating mass shootings

(WASHINGTON) — Amid a disturbing uptick in gun violence across the country, the political power of gun reform will be put to the test this election cycle.

There have been more than 500 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year, according to a tracker from the Gun Violence Archive. Two of those shootings — one at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York and the other at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas — sparked nationwide outrage and debate about gun violence.

In fact, the tragedies prompted a response from Congress for the first time in decades. Lawmakers this summer passed a bipartisan gun safety package to fund the implementation of red flag laws, close the “boyfriend loophole” and enhance background checks for potential gun buyers under the age of 21.

But the legislation didn’t go as far as many gun control advocates wanted, and now some citizens are using the midterm elections as an opportunity to make more progress on the issue at the state level.

Take Oregon, for example, where voters will consider the country’s most comprehensive gun reform measure on the ballot this November.

“Everybody in the nation has been throwing their hands up saying, ‘Enough is enough. What can we do?’ And this is the one state in the country right now where real action can be taken,” said Rev. Mark Knutson, one of the chief petitioners behind Measure 114 and chair of the group Lift Every Voice.

“It’s been called the Oregon model,” Knutson said, adding, “I think it’ll give a lot of courage to state legislatures, if they can see a major victory come out of Oregon.”

The ballot measure, developed by a coalition of faith leaders, gun control advocates and others, would require permits to buy firearms and prohibit ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. It would also require those applying for a firearm permit to pass a criminal background check, attend safety training and pay a fee.

Knutson’s group started preparing for the ballot measure after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. But he said the shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo prompted a “wave” of new volunteers to help gather signatures for the measure to be included on the ballot.

After Uvalde, where 19 children and two teachers were killed, one Oregon resident decided to turn in his AR-15 rifle and a 9mm handgun to local police.

Ben Beers went viral on TikTok for the move — which he said was emotional but also relieving.

“It’s like, why is this weapon, that’s [a] lethal weapon, here — that I’m seeing throughout these horrible tragedies,” Beers told ABC News. “Why is it in my house?”

Beers described the transformation of once being excited to customize an AR-15 after leaving the military to being horrified when that style weaponry was used to kill young children.

“I have personally done what I can as a U.S. citizen, as a former Marine,” he said. “I have a strong opinion on this. We need to do whatever we can do as citizens to change legislations for our future.”

A second state is also considering a ballot measure related to guns, but on the opposite spectrum. Iowa residents this election cycle will consider adding a gun rights amendment to the state constitution, which would further protect gun ownership.

But polling shows the issue of gun reform has dropped somewhat on voters’ list of concerns as the midterms draw closer, with the economy and abortion rights becoming the hot-button topics this cycle. One poll from Quinnipiac University conducted in June found 17% of Americans thought gun violence was the most urgent issue facing the nation, but as of late August that number dropped to 9%.

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