SALEM, Ore. – A movement to ban assault rifles in Oregon was launched in a Portland church Thursday, with clerics saying youths — many of whom have been protesting for gun control — will drive the campaign.
Interfaith religious leaders in Portland said they aim to get enough signatures on petitions to put a ban on assault weapons before voters, in the November election, in a statewide ballot.
There has been some movement in just a few other states in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people, including:
— In Delaware, Gov. John Carney on Feb. 23 called for state lawmakers to ban the sale of assault-style rifles, saying military-style weapons like the rifle used in Florida have no place in the hands of civilians. Legislation is now being drafted.
— In California, legislation is proposed that would expand the definition of an assault weapon to include most semi-automatic rifles bigger than a .22. But that would require them to be licensed like assault weapons, not banned.
In Oregon, the campaigners must gather over 88,000 signatures by July 6, and they're counting on youths who have demonstrated for gun control to help.
"Young people in this country are crying out. This is the moment in time where we need to step alongside them as adults and do our part with them," said Pastor Mark Knutson of the Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland.
While a person must be at least 18 to vote, even a 14-year-old can go out and seek signatures, Knutson told The Associated Press over the phone.
"This is going to be a youth campaign," said Knutson, who will be one of the three chief petitioners of the ballot measure.
Rev. Alcena Boozer, a former high school principal and pastor emeritus of St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal Church; and Rabbi Michael Cahana, of Congregation Beth Israel, are the other two chief petitioners. The treasurer is Imam Muhammad Najieb, director of the Muslim Community Center of Portland and a Marine veteran.
The anti-assault-rifle campaign was launched with a news conference at the Augustana Lutheran Church, which Knutson said is fitting. He recalled the civil rights campaigns of the 1950s and '60s, and how churches played a role, including one in Alabama where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached.
"The civil rights movement started out at Dexter Avenue Baptist church in Montgomery," Knutson said. "Good things come out of unexpected places."
Associated Press writers Donald Thompson in Sacramento, California, and Randall Chase in Dover, Delaware, contributed to this report.
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