Fact Sheet

The Truth About Violent Crime in Oregon

Violent crime in Oregon is increasingly fueled by gun violence, with the share of murders committed with a gun in Portland surging 25 percent in recent years. Christine Drazan and Betsy Johnson would only make things worse.

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A demonstrator's sign is seen during the
A demonstrator's sign is seen during the "March for Our Lives" rally against gun violence in downtown Portland, Oregon, on March 24, 2018. (Getty/Icon Sportswire/Diego Diaz)

Those who listen to Republican Christine Drazan and independent Betsy Johnson on the gubernatorial campaign trail might think that the state of Oregon is overrun with violent crime. But the reality is far different: According to FBI data, Oregon experienced a drop in violent crime in 2021, and statewide rates of violent crime remain well below the national average.

The real crisis facing Oregonians is gun violence. State data show decreases in assaults, drug offenses, and property crimes across Oregon from 2020 to 2021. But in Portland, the state’s largest city, the share of murders committed with guns has surged 25 percent in recent years. This increase in gun violence is not limited to murder: Overall shooting incidents in Portland have tripled since 2019, including a 211 percent increase in shootings resulting in no injury.

Politicians may lie, but data don't. Violent crime in Oregon is increasingly fueled by gun violence, and Tina Kotek is serious about fighting it.

Despite the increasing role of guns in violent crime, Christine Drazan and Betsy Johnson have repeatedly voted to block commonsense gun safety measures. Throughout her 20 years serving in the Oregon House and Senate, machine-gun owner Betsy Johnson has voted against nearly every gun safety policy introduced by Democrats. And under Christine Drazan’s leadership as Oregon House minority leader from 2019 to 2021, Republicans repeatedly blocked the legislature from addressing gun crime by simply not showing up for votes related to gun policies.

If elected governor, both Drazan and Johnson would make Oregon’s gun violence crisis worse. As indicated below, both have promised to veto any gun safety legislation should they be elected in November. Moreover, both oppose a measure on this year’s ballot that would implement policies associated with significant declines in gun deaths.

Democratic candidate Tina Kotek, on the other hand, has long prioritized the need to curb gun crime in the state. As Oregon House speaker, Kotek successfully passed several significant pieces of gun violence prevention legislation, including an extreme risk protection law, which is shown to prevent mass shootings and reduce gun suicides. Kotek also helped to pass a firearm safe storage law and laid the groundwork for Oregon to invest $15 million in violence intervention strategies.

Politicians may lie, but data don’t. Violent crime in Oregon is increasingly fueled by gun violence, and Tina Kotek is serious about fighting it.

Gun violence in Oregon: By the numbers

25%

Recent increase in the share of homicides caused by guns in Portland (2019–2022 vs. 2015–2019)

211%

Increase in the number of shootings resulting in no injury in Portland from 2019 to 2021

87%

Percentage of Oregonians who support expanding background checks to cover private sales

Violent crime in Portland is overwhelmingly fueled by guns

  • The share of homicides caused by guns surged 25 percent in recent years—from 60 percent of all Portland homicides from 2015 to 2019 to 75 percent of all homicides from 2019 to 2021.
  • According to the Portland Police Bureau, shooting incidents tripled in the city from 2019 to 2021.
  • While gun violence has driven an increase in homicides, rates of other types of violent crime remain below those of other comparable cities.
  • This surge in gun violence is not limited to murder: From 2019 to 2021, Portland experienced a 211 percent increase in the number of shootings resulting in no injury.
  • Violent crime in Oregon is increasingly isolated to Portland gun violence: State data show decreases in assaults, drug offenses, and property crimes across Oregon from 2020 to 2021.

A record number of guns were sold in 2020, contributing to Oregon’s rising gun violence crisis

  • Oregon performed more than 516,000 background checks in 2020—a 44 percent increase over 2019 and an 87 percent increase over 2015.
  • Because Oregon has not closed the “Charleston loophole”—the policy that led to the tragic murder of nine people at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina—firearm sales can proceed if a background check takes longer than three days to complete, even if a buyer has a violent criminal history:
    • According to a legislative report, this loophole resulted in an estimated 33,500 guns sold without a background check between July 2018 and January 31, 2021.
  • Unlike its neighboring state of California, Oregon does not require a waiting period for individuals before they can buy a gun, nor does it restrict the number of guns that can be bought at one time.

Christine Drazan and Betsy Johnson have repeatedly voted against commonsense gun safety measures, earning them “A” ratings from the gun lobby

  • In 2015, Betsy Johnson voted against expanding background checks to cover private sales, despite support from 87 percent of Oregonians and 83 percent of Oregon gun owners.
  • In 2017, Johnson voted against the state’s extreme risk protection order law, which has been shown to prevent mass shootings and reduce gun suicides.
  • Christine Drazan and Betsy Johnson both opposed Oregon’s safe storage law, which requires gun owners to secure their firearms and report stolen guns.
  • Under Drazan’s leadership as Oregon House minority leader from 2019 to 2021, Republicans repeatedly blocked the legislative process by simply not showing up for votes related to gun policies.
  • It’s no surprise that Drazan and Johnson received “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association (NRA), the highest possible rating for candidates with a voting record.

If sworn into office, Christine Drazan and Betsy Johnson would oppose laws to strengthen gun safety and reduce gun crime

  • Oregon has the weakest gun laws among West Coast states—less restrictive than Washington and far weaker than California. Even still, Christine Drazan has promised to block gun safety measures if elected governor, claiming she “will veto any bill that Compromises Oregonians’ Second Amendment rights.”
  • Betsy Johnson shares similar views: The Oregon Firearms Federation has described her as “strongly and unapologetically pro-gun,” and she regularly touts this position on the campaign trail.
  • Both Drazan and Johnson oppose a statewide ballot measure that would prohibit ammunition magazines of more than 10 rounds and require a permit to purchase a firearm—policies that have been proven to reduce gun violence:
    • Connecticut’s licensing law is associated with a 28 percent drop in the firearm homicide rate and a 33 percent drop in firearm suicides.
    • Estimates suggest that nearly 40 percent of crime guns used in serious violent crimes are equipped with high-capacity magazines.
  • Given Drazan’s and Johnson’s track record at the state level, Oregonian’s cannot be confident that either would be trusted partners with the federal government to implement the recently signed Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, despite the fact that it could help save lives in Oregon.

In contrast, Tina Kotek has a record of working to reduce gun violence

  • As Oregon House speaker, Tina Kotek led her caucus to pass significant gun reform rooted in evidence: During her tenure, the state implemented background checks on gun purchases and safe storage requirements, while also prohibiting those who have committed domestic abuse from accessing firearms.
  • In response to the recent spike in gun violence in Portland, Kotek spent her last session as speaker laying the groundwork for the legislature to focus on community violence prevention, ultimately leading to the state’s $15 million investment in organizations working to prevent interpersonal and community violence on Portland’s streets.
  • Kotek is the only candidate for governor that supports Measure 114. Similar policies have been associated with significant reductions in gun homicide and gun suicide.
  • Kotek has prioritized gun reform and gun violence prevention on the campaign trail. She requested a debate with her fellow candidates specifically on the issue, and when that request was ignored, she hosted a forum on gun violence and how the state can address the issue directly.

Conclusion

Christine Drazan and Betsy Johnson try to hide their lack of action on gun violence behind baseless claims about Oregon crime. But the data tell a different story: Oregon’s crime problem is increasingly due to guns. Both Drazan and Johnson have taken every opportunity to block gun safety measures that could have prevented Portland’s dramatic spike in gun deaths in recent years. If either is elected governor, they would make gun crime even worse.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Author

the Center for American Progress Action Fund

Explore The Series

A woman walks through a field of flowers representing deaths from gun violence.

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