The Real Lesson from Oregon

Recently, the Guardian ran an article about Oregon’s successful effort to tighten its gun laws. It was interesting to learn about the state’s strategies and players–but the real lesson wasn’t about controlling access to guns.

It was about enabling democracy and facilitating–rather than suppressing–the vote.

In 2014 during Oregon’s midterm elections, the NRA poured cash into the coffers of pro-gun candidates, and a coalition of opponents poured money into the campaigns of anti-gun candidates. According to Everytown, which is backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, it alone funneled $600,000 into the state. The NRA made phone calls, sent mail, urged its members to contact their legislators. In the meantime Everytown bought ads on television and online.

That’s when the effort in Oregon reached its third step. “If you ask people about ‘gun control’, they might say they don’t like it. But if you ask people about specifics, like assault rifles or background checks, they’re overwhelmingly for it. People want change,” Okamoto said. “So we put the vote in their hands.”

It’s simple to vote in Oregon, which holds all elections by mail. When residents apply for drivers’ licenses they are automatically registered to vote, and about three weeks before an election they receive a ballot in the mail. They fill it out at home and send it back. “It’s so easy,” Okamoto said.

For years, pundits and politicians alike have bemoaned the reality that the NRA can–and does–prevent legislators from responding to the huge majorities of Americans (including a majority of NRA members) who favor stricter controls over gun purchases. But they’ve never connected the dots.

If we want policies that reflect public sentiment, we have to allow the public to express that sentiment at the ballot box.

In a constitutional democracy, there are certainly things we don’t vote on. We are not a pure democracy, and “majoritarianism” is–and should be–tempered by the protections of the Bill of Rights and the Rule of Law.

But in those areas where legislation should reflect the public will, we should be facilitating the expression of that public will–not suppressing it.

Oregon’s vote by mail system and other measures making voting easier rather than more difficult deserves to be emulated elsewhere.


  1. It sure says something when “leveling out the playing field” really means “leveling out the money”. Perhaps the biggest difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals put their trust in facts and truth to carry the day, while conservatives put their trust in money. As the general population has become more and more materialistic, the conservatives have ruled the day. Maybe that is about to change.

  2. The Indiana GOP will take action on climate change before it will follow Oregon’s voting example. Too many Todd Rokitas.

  3. Automatic voter registration for any Oregonian who receives a driver’s license? They’re such wild radicals out there. And facilitating voting by mail? Now there’s a truly scary idea. Just think how it must distort election results.

  4. The action in Oregon is far too complex in it’s simplicity for Indiana Republicans and their constituents to understand. The question as to the meaning of the term “Hoosier” has long evaded description – to me it means Bible-thumping, gun-toting, backwoods racists. Those of us outside their membership are a minority so must fight for “truth, justice and the American way” to even attempt to get a decent education. The only protection we have at this time is to be aware of those around us in public places who are open-carrying and hope this is only their way to boost their sagging egos.

  5. In ALL cases , when we are required to – regulate,register , get a license , or pay a use fee ,or tax , we are diminishing that which is a BIRTHRIGHT.
    All forms of gun control are efforts to abolish / limit a person’s birthright – the right to protect the first , second , and third dynamics.

  6. Wow. Thanks Prof K. That is an amazing system. We could never do that in IN but I am impressed that progressive states are doing important things to help PEOPLE participate. YAY for them. Thansk for sharing the info.

  7. Just one question. If one doesn’t have a drivers license, what does Oregon do to make it easy for those people to be registered to vote?

  8. Nancy when I lived in Oregon most government offices and libraries would either help you register or direct you to where you could register. I don’t remember the specifics but the state is really big on people voting.

  9. I don’t know if owning a gun is a birthright, but even birthrights are regulated. In a civilized society, freedoms are always regulated.

  10. Earl, Oscar Wilde said, “America is the only society to go from barbarism to decadence without knowing civilization.” The current interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is instructive. That has not gone unobserved by all of the developed countries.

    Some have said America is “exceptional”. The world agrees, but not in the way it was said.

  11. Ours is a representative democracy. We elect people to act in our best interests, but with the inevitable corruption of money, better job promises etc., some don’t, and we need a mechanism to go around such “representatives” to a vote of the people in order to by-pass such corrupted (or even inattentive) representatives and to adopt or negate legislation such representatives for whatever reason refuse to adopt or negate. We see elements of this process played out elsewhere in provisions for removing a president from power and House Rules, for instance, that allow the House to expel members who bring disrepute to the House (whose Ethics Committee I think should invoke such rule in dealing with the “Freedom Caucus,” assuming there is any more room for besmirching what is left of the reputation of the House).

    The question is not whether moving from representative democracy to pure democracy in particular situations is up for discussion. It is not. It is a necessary escape valve from political oppression.The question is rather where and why it is to be applied in particular situations. Remedial legislation is a vehicle to correct situations in need of change, and if the peoples’ representatives won’t come up with it, then the people will.

    Apparently the voters of Oregon thought voter participation in a democracy was important enough to call for change by the people, and did so in a move that strengthens democracy across the board. That reminded the politicians in Salem that the people are still ultimately in
    control and not deep-pocketed lobbyists and their greedy backers.

    I agree with both the rationale and the outcome of such public initiative. In these days of accelerating destruction of democracy by the rich and corporate class and Trump Know-Nothings, we need all the help we can get.

  12. We know the Republicans in Indiana would not go for the Oregon Voting Laws. It would be rejected, just say NO!!! At the best it would be consigned to a committee and heavy anchors of ideology would sink it.

    The problem I see is I cannot think of one Democrat in State Government that would copy the Oregon Law, change the wording of it to apply in Indiana and introduce it here as legislation. Can anyone one imagine John Gregg summoning up some fire and adding it to his platform??? Gregg’s platform for Governor will mirror Pence’s platform.

    The Democrats in Indiana will stay under the rug in their “safe” districts. The Republicans and the Corporate Establishment Democrats will tell the safe Democrats to keep their mouths shut.

  13. Culture is useful because it greatly reduces the need to think. That’s why it’s an essential component to the evolution of civilization though not to physical evolution. If one can just know what to do in frequent circumstances rather than resort to trial and error or figuring it out the brain is freed up for more unique challenges.

    A word not often paired with “culture” is “propaganda” but in its broadest context it’s how culture is instilled. Repetitive exposure, the essence of parenting.

    So the NRA is, as “ad-men” is “parenting” America by repeating as often as they can get exposure to their victims that we are gun people. We have always been. We always will be. Don’t think too much about why or the consequences just understand who you are and accept that is one of us. Welcome.

    It is said that nobody knows culture until they know two. In the absence of a benchmark, culture is not distinguishable – it’s just what is, reality, who we are.

    What Republicans have been the first to discover is that the development of modern communications technology has made it very practical and affordable to brand market rather than campaign. It’s affordable to them because others not only pay for it but pay them for supporting it. The NRA pays To instill gun culture and pays the GOP to reinforce it. So does Koch Industries and Exxonmobil and the Chamber of Commerce.

    So here’s our problem. Wayne LaPierre gets paid millions to lie with impunity. We not only get nothing but are asked to pay to re-instill a culture of democracy.

    The only thing to motivates us is love for country or our children or theirs and their future.

    I’m good with that.

  14. I just posted this comment on Facebook.

    “There are many reasons to own guns. One is to kill things, sometimes people, sometimes on purpose, sometimes accidentally, sometimes decided by the owner, sometimes decided by others.”

    “The question is: is the hobby worth the consequences to society?”

    We have to consider that many guns never kill anyone. Many gun owners have some need to own them and those guns may well be regorously protected from doing harm.

    So, from a policy making perspective the focus needs to be on what specific restrictions will have the least impact on those guns and owners not risking others’ health and yet significantly reduce the incidence of gun violence against humans.

    Of course the best of all worlds would be if the conversation leading up to any policy was led by, or at least included, gun owners.

    This is what the NRA’s culture creating propaganda is working hard to prevent. Anything that might create indecision in not buying that next gun or more ammunition.

  15. Of course every post here could substitute “climate change” for “guns” and “Exxonmobil” or “Koch Industries” for the “NRA”.

    Except that climate change is more deadly and way more expensive than guns here.

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