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Gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson photographed on March 14.

Among the 6,740 Oregonians who owned machine guns in 2021: gubernatorial candidate and longtime Democratic lawmaker Betsy Johnson, according to federal records.

Johnson’s steadfast opposition to gun regulations is well-known, as is her status as a gun owner and collector. Less well-known is the fact that Johnson owns a Cold War-era submachine gun.

Johnson, who represented a northwest Oregon Senate district until she resigned to run for governor last year, discussed her machine gun ownership with a journalism class at Jewell School nearly a decade ago, as part of her response to a student question about her opinion on gun control, weeks after a gunman killed 20 elementary school students and five adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In Salem, lawmakers were gearing up to try to pass additional gun restrictions, including a ban on military style rifles.

“You’ve asked the question of this legislative session,” Johnson responded to the middle school student who posed the question, according to a January 2013 article in The Astorian. “Let me answer it in a kind of odd way. I am the only member of my caucus that belongs to the NRA. I’m a Class 3 holder, which means that I can legally possess a machine gun and actually have one. So I take the Second Amendment pretty seriously.”

On Tuesday, Johnson did not respond to a phone call but a spokesperson for her campaign, Jennifer Sitton, wrote in an email that “Betsy and her husband have collected unique and vintage guns for many years” and the submachine gun “was last fired over 25 years ago and is stored securely in a safe.” Johnson’s staunch opposition to gun regulations in the Legislature and recently on the campaign trail has prompted increased criticism in the last week, following the mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. In a potential departure from Johnson’s historical stance, Sitton said on Tuesday that Johnson would “support and enforce stronger background checks for gun purchases and raising the age to purchase certain firearms from eighteen to 21 if she is elected governor.

Some Oregonians might not realize that civilians can still own the fully automatic weapons, since Congress outlawed the sale of new machine guns to civilians in 1986. However, Americans can still obtain the fully automatic guns if they obtain a federal license. Fully automatic machine guns will continue to fire ammunition as long as the trigger is held down and ammunition is available, whereas unmodified semi-automatic weapons can fire repeatedly but the trigger must be pulled each time.

Collectors spend large sums on machine guns, which can run in the tens of thousands of dollars, and ammunition to feed into them.

In January 2013, Johnson also gave students her take on the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The killer’s mother was a gun enthusiast, and he used weapons from her collection to kill his mother and then massacre young students and staff at the elementary school.

“To somehow take a situation like Newtown where a very troubled adolescent young man, stole guns that were legally purchased and went in and slaughtered those children is a horrific situation,” Johnson said. “But the policy question is: Do we ban guns because a deranged young man stole guns and did a very horrifying thing? That is going to be where the debate is.”

Johnson warned the student who asked her about gun control, who said his mother owned a rifle for hunting, that “Some of my colleagues would have the government come into her house and take away her guns. They hate guns that much.”

In the Legislature, Johnson consistently voted with most Republicans against gun regulations, including a 2015 expansion of background checks to cover private firearm transfers and a 2017 red flag law that allows judges to issue “extreme risk protection orders” that require people to surrender their guns temporarily if they are a risk to themselves or people with whom they live. That law was sponsored by a Republican senator, who recently suggested America needs to require mental health assessments in order for people to purchase guns.

Republican candidate for governor Christine Drazan is also a gun owner, but her campaign spokesperson did not answer a question by late Tuesday afternoon about what types of firearms she owns nor how she uses them. A spokesperson for Democratic candidate Tina Kotek said in an email that Kotek’s father owned a rifle and hunting was common where she grew up, but Kotek does not currently own a firearm.

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(4) comments

Bluedem

I'll be voting for Kotek. I won't even consider this obnoxious, gun-loving woman.

69094

I wouldn't vote for an NRA member to sweep the streets let alone be the governor of this rational state.

Bluedem

I absolutely agree!

91184

She "discussed her machine gun ownership with a journalism class at Jewell School nearly a decade ago, as part of her response to a student question about her opinion on gun control, weeks after a gunman killed 20 elementary school students and five adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School"

What on earth?

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