Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Close Look: Petition Drive to Stop Gun Restrictions

Committed minorities have power through leverage.

Petition drive seeks to exempt Jackson County from a potential Oregon law banning assault rifles.

Roadside petition booth.
A group of people had a booth gathering petition signatures to try to stop enforcement of a potential law that would restrict ownership of "assault rifles" with "large magazines."

Sometimes the minority rules.  It can happen when the majority of people don't care passionately about something, but a minority does. It is easier to accommodate the minority.

Let me give an example.  

You are planning an event for 100 people and are considering a menu. You decide not to include any items with peanuts. Why? Because most people won't be unhappy with the absence of items with peanuts among the hors d'oeuvres selections, but people with a peanut allergy would care a lot if there were peanuts on the table. Why hassle? 

Accommodate the minority with peanut objections. 

Same with a large event for strangers, serving a single meat dish. Would the host choose pork? A small percentage might not eat on religious grounds, so the host might choose chicken or beef--safer choices. Minority rule. 

Some people care passionately about gun rights, including preserving almost everyones right to own, transfer, and use nearly all firearms without restriction.The gun rights crowd is real and visible. State Senator Alan DeBoer told me he got inundated with emails from them when a gun related issue came before him in Salem. One sees pro-NRA stickers on cars and trucks. They write letters to the editor.

Click: ABC Poll.
Polls show that this is a minority view

A majority of people favor restrictions on the availability of guns and that "assault rifles" with large magazines should be banned. Quinnipiac polling after the Parkland, Florida shooting, showed a surge in public support for tougher laws, with 67% supporting an outright ban on AR-15s, 83% for a mandatory waiting period for guns, and 97% for background checks. NBC report. Over half of gun owners favor tougher rules.  AP. Click.  

Yet nothing happens legislatively. 

Click: Ceasefire Oregon
It is the peanut allergy problem. Support for gun restrictions is not a top priority of people who want to restrict guns, but it is a high priority to the gun rights crowd.

I watched democracy in action on Saturday. A group of people in a vacant lot near a Costco had a buzz of activity from people stopping to sign a petition. Under Jackson County, Oregon's charter it takes 4956 valid signatures of voters on a petition to put onto the Jackson County ballot a vote on exempting Jackson County from Oregon gun laws. They are trying to get it on the ballot. The petition activists and signers are acting out of concern with a statewide Oregon initiative petition--Initiative Petition 43--which would implement a restriction on "assault rifles" with large magazines.  

That explains the sign: Stop the Gun Ban.

The local petition drive to ban implementation of the rules under IP 43 is probably illegal and unenforceable in itself, and it is based on stopping a law that has not been passed. This is two degrees of irrelevance, but the effort demonstrates something very powerful. They want a statement, if not a law. 

Staffing the booth
We observe their own passion and we observe they draw a crowd.

The man behind the booth was openly carrying a gun, not quite visible in this photo. He asserted that IP 43 actually went far beyond "assault rifles" and that it included in fact nearly everything except shotguns and pistols. "The law tries to take away almost everything," he said. In the ten minutes I was at the booth 5 different cars pulled up and people got out to sign. 

There were signs there for a candidate for local sheriff.  I asked the people staffing the booth if Bill Forerich was a Democrat or Republican. They said they didn't know, but assumed he was a Republican, because he supported gun rights. 

A GOP candidate or officeholder would have primary election trouble were he or she to support legislation that restricted guns. (A Democratic candidate for state office would likely face problems if not supporting some kind of gun restrictions.) The majority of GOP voters actually do support tighter gun laws, but they aren't the ones who care a lot.  

Distributing a candidate's sign
Both the state initiative to ban guns, and the local petition to ban enforcement of that state law, are using techniques of direct democracy, the initiative petition.

Legislators--people elected through the republican principle of choosing delegates-- cannot act on behalf of majorities because they must be responsive to the passionate minority. A prudent host is like a legislator, acting not to accommodate the majority of people who might prefer ham or peanuts, but instead accommodating people with passionate objections to them. 

Going with the majority invites trouble. Go with beef, not pork. 

Government by initiative requires passion among people to get it on the ballot, because getting the signatures is hard work.  Thereafter, though, it requires only the passive preference of the majority of voters to mark a ballot.

In direct democracy, majority rules. In Oregon, with a large body of liberal Portland-area voters, a statewide majority might well say they want gun restrictions. They would be exercising a general preference for gun controls, the equivalent of pork or peanuts.

At the local level there is a different constituency of more rural and conservative voters in Jackson County.  Here the local majority may well vote its own modest preference opposite to the one held by the statewide majority. They would vote to stop banning guns, the equivalent of  "Stop the ban on pork."

Shirt: "Home of the free, because of the brave."


  1. Great report.

    These people are terrified of....??? Who knows? Everything? They cling to a false belief that their gun fetish will somehow protect them from many imagined threats. This flies in the face of logic, statistics and an intelligent assessment of the nature of modern life. While the rest of the world moves forward, this society is mired in it's own mistaken lethal mythology.

    To witness those living in such fear is heartbreaking.

  2. One minor correction. The booth was not distributing signs for the Sheriff candidate. They support him for Sheriff, but I dropped by the signs because they wanted one AT the booth. I left a box of 10 of them and 50 wire stand because they were nice enough to let me leave them for another friend that was low. He picked them up later. But hey, maybe we should just start having a constitutional values booth each election year! I will bring the peanuts and pork. :-)


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