PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — On a Monday afternoon in September 1995, Sarah Whiston had finished her first day of Kindergarten. Her Aunt, Doreen Dodgen-Magee, had helped fill her backpack with letters of love for her first day of school.
Sarah would not make it to her second day of school.
That night on Sept. 13th, her father, David Whitson, killed six-year-old Sarah, her three-year-old sister Rachel, her sixth-month-old sister April and her mother, Laura. April had been in the hands of her grandmother, Margaret Magee.
“The thing I most remember is, the evening after the murders, bringing [Margaret] into our home and cleaning the blood out of her hair,” Dodgen-Magee said.
Dodgen-Magee’s husband had helped Laura successfully file for a restraining order. It came after numerous threats from Whitson leading up to and through a divorce process. Laura had kept a journal and shared the threats with people close to her.
In 1995, little could be done, not even from the last gun control legislation that had passed three years earlier.
Over two decades later, President Joe Biden highlighted the first kind of that legislation in three decades: the Bipartisan Safer Communities act.
The bill provides money for states for Extreme Risk Protection Orders, where family and people close to an individual can file a petition in court to keep that person from getting a gun. That law went to effect in Oregon in 2018 and Dodgen-Magee says it could have prevented her family’s loss because they had no idea Whitson had purchased a firearm after the restraining order had been filed.
“It’s astonishing to me that it has taken this long, but now hopefully, that we have data and forward movement we can come together around these issues that I think really most of us agree on,” Dodgen-Magee said.
Dodgen-Magee was one of the hundreds whose family was affected by gun violence to attend the White House Monday as President Biden highlighted the legislation.
One parent, Manuel Oliver, interrupted the president.
“I’ve been trying to tell you this for years, for years,” Oliver yelled, according to The Hill.
Oliver’s son was killed in the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. in 2018. Dodgen-Magee says she was sitting near him and says she agrees—despite the changes that addressed her family’s case, more should be done to combat gun violence and mass shootings in particular.
“There are a lot of us out here who will not stand down,” Dodgen-Magee said.
The law enhances background checks for 18-21 year-olds, closes purchases of firearms to those convicted of domestic violence and provides money for extreme risk protection orders. Gun control advocates called on Biden to require background checks for all firearm purchases, limit high-capacity magazines, mandate safe storage, and ban all assault weapons with the law. In order to garner Republican support, those measures were lost.
In Oregon, gun control could go further should voters approve a measure being put forward by Lift Every Voice.
It would, if passed, require all gun owners to have a permit to own a gun. A permit could only be acquired after a person passes a background check, takes a firearm safety class, and pass live-fire training.
The organization has submitted signatures for review by the Secretary of State’s office before the initiative for makes the ballot.
“All individuals need to be reviewed,” said Liz McKanna, the policy director for Lift Every Voice. “Having a gun, owning a gun, and certainly buying one, is a really significant step and it’s something people should do with safety in mind.”