One of the bitter ironies in the gun control debate is playing out right now in Oregon, where years of progressive policies have led to a huge spike in shootings and homicides and gun control activists have successfully used that staggering rise in violent crime to put a voter referendum on the ballot this year promising increased public safety at the expense of the right of self-defense; outlawing the sale, transfer, and possession (in most circumstances) of “large capacity” magazines, imposing a new “permit-to-purchase” requirement on all firearms, and creating a state-run database of all permit holders.
Legal gun owners aren’t the drivers of Portland’s crime spike, but that’s not stopping these anti-gun advocates from blaming them for the actions of criminals, even though most folks might point to the city’s opposition to policing as a bigger factor in the increasing dangerousness of Portland’s streets.
It was just a little more than two years ago, after all, when Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced he was disbanding the police department’s gun violence reduction team, and in the months afterwards violent crime and shootings soared across the city. A little more than a year later Wheeler reversed course and launched a new Focused Intervention Team with the same mission, only to find a lack of volunteers within the Portland Police Bureau eager to sign up for the job. After months of struggles the FIT unit hit the streets in January of this year, but so far it hasn’t had much of an impact. As Wheeler acknowledged during a recent interview with public radio program Here & Now, homicides in the city are up a staggering 200% over the past year, and are double the national average.
“We engaged an organization to do a study, and what they concluded for the city of Portland is that more than half of the shootings involved group or gang activity. There’s a very small population of people, about 200 people in our city driving the vast majority of gun violence in Portland. And black teen and adult men continue to be disproportionately impacted by shootings and homicides. They represent nearly 47% of suspects and victims in these shootings, but they only make up 6% of the city’s population.”
If a tiny fraction of Portland’s 650,000 or so residents are driving the “vast majority” of violent crime in the city, it makes even less sense to impose new gun control restrictions on millions of law-abiding Oregonians, but Wheeler is also insistent that an increase in gun sales is to blame for the violence in his city.
“The ‘why’ of it is an increase in purchasing of firearms, disinvestment in communities that are struggling even more than ever under the impacts of COVID, and tensions are really high and people are settling their disputes with firearms. We had one shooting earlier this year where three adults settled a fight that they had during lunch at a really nice restaurant in a nice part of the city with gunfire.”
If the “vast majority” of gun violence is stemming from about 200 people across the city, then it shouldn’t matter how many people lawfully purchased firearms over the past couple of years, but Wheeler is largely following the Democratic playbook in targeting guns and not the trigger-pullers. I say largely because Wheeler told Here & Now that with his latest proclamation of a state of emergency over “gun violence,” the city does indeed want to focus on “those who we know are directly impacted by gun violence,” but only through “non-law enforcement interventions.”
While Wheeler and other Portland progressives are loathe to use police against the most violent and prolific offenders in the city, they’re fully on board with creating new non-violent, possessory crimes out of our right to keep and bear arms… crimes that will be policed not by community activists but by law enforcement officers.
Given Oregon’s leftward tilt, IP17 stands a very good chance of passing, though the odds of it being struck down by the courts are also strong. Regardless of what happens with the gun control initiative, however, Portland’s murder problem is going to remain in place as long as anti-gun politicians like Ted Wheeler recognize the problem is being driven by a relative handful of violent and prolific offenders but choose to target law-abiding gun owners and their Second Amendment rights instead.