Measure 114 and the placebo effect

Measure 114 and the placebo effect
Close-up, medicine capsule on woman's tongue

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a prediction: Measure 114, even if its allowed to be fully enforced, will have no appreciable impact on Oregon’s crime rate in 2023. Shootings will not noticeably decrease in Portland, because the vast majority of those shootings aren’t committed by someone who legally purchased a gun to begin with, so the new permit-to-purchase requirement will have no impact on those who get their guns through theft or the black market.

The new magazine ban isn’t likely to make much of a difference either. If you’re illegally carrying a gun, are you really going to be concerned about having another misdemeanor charge tacked on if you’re arrested? Those intent on committing violent crimes just aren’t going to be dissuaded or even impacted by Measure 114’s implementation.

Rev. Mark Knudson, the founder of Lift Every Voice Oregon and one of the leaders of the push to enact Measure 114, would of course disagree with my prediction. Like Rev. Billy Sunday, another famous pastor who preached the utopia to come once prohibitionary measures were enacted, Knudson proclaims that lives will be saved when Measure 114 takes effect. But even more interestingly, in an interview with the Portland Business Journal, Knudson highlighted (accidentally, in my opinion) the placebo effect that gun control has on some folks.

Do you think the law will make a big difference?

Parts of this law are in place in other parts of the country and have been proven to reduce suicides and homicides. It already has made a big difference psychologically. We’ve had students and parents and grandparents send notes saying, “Thank you, we feel safer.” It hasn’t even been enacted yet. This will be a bellwether for the country, I believe. People are looking at Oregon. They’re calling it the Oregon model already, a grassroots movement to make change when so many are afraid to take it on. You have to be ready for threats and anonymous hate.

This is a high-road campaign. We pray for those who come at you like that. Veterans were some of our strongest voices, and hunters who don’t want to be in the woods with someone who has never been trained. The coalition was so broad based. It was a big, big lift, and we’re humbled by it.

I don’t know how many people are calling it “the Oregon model” given that Measure 114 passed in progressive Oregon with just 51% of the vote, but that’s a topic for another post. I think Knudson’s really hit on one of the biggest things that gun control advocates have going for them: the psychological impact of gun control laws, particularly among people who don’t own guns or know much about them. As Knudson pointed out, the law hasn’t even taken effect, though I can’t help but notice he didn’t bring up the multiple court challenges. It’s entirely possible that the law will never take effect (a court hearing in the lawsuit filed by the Oregon Firearms Federation and a county sheriff will take place on Friday), but some people already feel safer even though the law hasn’t changed.

In fact, the biggest impact of Measure 114 to date has been the explosion in gun sales in recent weeks, with the Oregon State Police reporting an increase of more than 400% compared to pre-election background checks on firearm transfers. I hate to break it to all those people writing Knudson who say they feel safer already but if they think that more guns in the hands of legal guns owners puts them at greater risk they should be freaking out right now, not breathing easy.

Then again, those folks aren’t reading this. You are, and since you’ve paid for a VIP membership (and thank you very much for doing so) I can assume that you not only care deeply about your Second Amendment rights, but you know a thing or two about guns and gun owners as well. As infuriating as it is that the emotions and ignorance of the low-information voter can be so adeptly manipulated by the gun control lobby, it’s also a reality that we can’t ignore. Gun owners don’t comprise a majority of voters in most states (certainly not Oregon), so we already start at a disadvantage when it comes to ballot measures and initiatives. In order for us to defeat these anti-gun measures, we have to connect with non-gun owners as well and on their terms.

Measure 114 passed 51-49, which was a majority but not nearly the amount of support you’d expect to receive in a state as blue as Oregon. The gun control measure won about 75% of the vote in the Portland area, but in rural parts of the state opposition ran as high as 80% in several counties. I think some of the arguments, particularly those raised by county sheriffs warning of cuts to patrols and other hits to public safety in order to pay for the unfunded mandates that come attached to Measure 114, were effective in reaching non-gun owners where they live.

There was also a critique of Measure 114 and efforts to defeat it from the left, pointing to the disparate impact of magazine bans on racial minorities and arguing that the progressives who protested against overpolicing in Portland shouldn’t turn around and vote to enshrine several new non-violent, possessory offenses for police to enforce. Given the overwhelming support for Measure 114 in Portland, I’m not sure how much that argument really resonated, though I’m greatly appreciative of the effort.

A lot of people find comfort in the idea of a simple solution; that if we just do this One Easy Thing To Reduce Gun Violence that don’t need to bother with those individuals who are pulling the trigger and taking innocent lives because they won’t be able to get a gun. These folks may or may not have an irrational hatred of gun owners, but I’d say the vast majority of them have very little experience with guns, very little knowledge of them, and absolutely no desire whatsoever to change that. So when they hear that Measure 114 passed, they feel safer even if they’re more than a little fuzzy on the details, because it’s the One Easy Thing that’s going to work. They believe it. They have faith, not evidence.

I wish I had an easy answer to address this phenomenon, but I don’t think there is one. The challenge is to connect with those non-gun owners on their terms, and most of them don’t want that connection, at least not if it’s coming from Second Amendment activists like myself (or you, Dear Reader). That’s why I think the anti-Measure 114 pitch from the sheriffs might actually have been persuasive, at least for those who heard it (the pro-114 campaign dwarfed the anti-114 opposition in terms of spending). It wasn’t “Measure 114 will take away your rights”, it was “Measure 114 will make it harder for police to protect you.”

You and I both know that the police aren’t there to protect you as an individual, but when you’re talking to people who do leave it up to the police to protect them, and you inform them it’s gonna be harder to do so because they’ll have to take some officers off the street to handle the administrative requirements of the permit-to-purchase system, all of a sudden Measure 114 has a very different impact on your safety. At the very least they’re thinking about the trade-off, whereas before they were convinced there was no down side at all.

Placebos work because… well, I’m not sure we actually understand the placebo effect, but for the sake of this post let’s assume that our ignorance has something to do with it. We believe this pill will work because we don’t know any better, and somehow our body responds as if it’s real medicine. Once we’re informed, however, the placebo effect tends to go away. I think the same is true when it comes to the placebo effect for those soft supporters of gun control.. Give them information that matters to them from a source they will trust and listen to, and it will have an impact. It might not be an argument based on our constitutional right to keep and bear arms, or even about self-defense, but the thing about gun control is that there are so many arguments against it that it’s not difficult to find one that can resonate to some degree with non-gun owners. We’ll never win over all of them, but we came awfully close to winning over enough of them in Oregon to defeat Measure 114, and we can build on that going forward.