A federal judge will start hearing arguments Monday in a lawsuit that may determine the fate of a voter-passed law to regulate how Oregonians own firearms and ban ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.
In November, Oregon voters passed Measure 114, which is intended to help stem the scourge of gun violence and mass shootings and close gaps that allow bad actors to slip through. The measure would require people to get a permit to purchase a firearm, which would require a background check and a safety course. Gun rights advocates challenged it in federal court and in the Harney County Circuit Court, and it hasn’t yet taken effect.
Every year, hundreds of lives are shattered in Oregon from gun violence, suicides or accidental shootings. In 2022, 803 Oregonians visited hospital emergency rooms with firearm-related injuries, according to Oregon Health Authority data. In 2021, 670 people in Oregon died from firearms, according to federal data.
The measure also would ban large-capacity magazines and close what critics call the “Charleston loophole” because of a 2015 mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. That’s a federal law that allows firearms dealers to sell a gun without a completed background check if they haven’t received the results after more than three days.
The ban on large-capacity magazines is intended to prevent shootings like the one in August at a Bend grocery store, where a gunman with an AR-15-style rifle killed two people before taking his own life.
“Thank God we didn’t lose more people that night,” Bend City Councilor Anthony Broadman said during a Thursday briefing with reporters. “We carry shootings like ours forever.”
Broadman also is haunted by a boyhood memory from 1991, when a gunman unsuccessfully tried to shoot and kill his father and missed. Broadman was 12 at the time.
Measure 114 on hold
For now, the measure is on hold.
A Harney County District Court judge temporarily blocked the measure’s implementation as a separate lawsuit proceeds. The Harney County case is set for trial in September.
As a result, the five-day federal trial before U.S. District Judge Karin J. Immergut in Portland next week will not be the final word on Measure 114. Further appeals are likely from either side.
The Oregon Firearms Federation is the lead plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, along with firearms dealers and others. In court filings, they argued the measure is unconstitutional and infringes on people’s Second Amendment right to bear arms, such as by allowing indefinite delays when background checks aren’t processed in a timely way.
The organization and its attorneys couldn’t be reached for comment. If they’re successful, they will get a court ruling that overturns Measure 114 and declares it unconstitutional.
Because Measure 114 is a state law, the Oregon Department of Justice is defending it. The Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group, requested and received the federal court’s permission to intervene in the case, which allows the organization to aid in defending Measure 114.
The group plans to argue that the ban on large-capacity magazines and the permit-to-purchase requirements are constitutional. Large capacity magazines are accessories, not arms, said Zach Pekelis, an attorney with Seattle-based Pacifica Law Group, who is representing the alliance in court.
“They’re not arms at all protected by the Second Amendment,” Pekelis said. “There’s a long history and tradition of regulating dangerous weapons and other accessories throughout the United States.”
There are multiple moving parts of the case. Pekelis said the trial is scheduled to end Friday and Immergut is expected to take a few weeks or months to issue a written decision.
It’s a bench trial, meaning the judge will rule directly on the case without a jury.
The alliance is not directly involved in the Harney County case.
That lawsuit will continue in September regardless of what the federal judge decides. That case, too, is expected to face an appeal regardless of the outcome.
“It’s possible one or more of these cases, of course, will go on appeal, which would mean that the process would last a little bit longer,” Pekelis said.
Separately, pending firearms-related bills in the Legislature have drawn sharp objections from Republican lawmakers.
House Bill 2005 would raise the minimum age to purchase most firearms from 18 to 21 years and allow local government agencies to ban firearm possession on government-owned property. Senate Bill 348 would build upon Measure 114 with more requirements, such as giving the state until July 2024 to set up a permit-to-purchase system.
But with the Republican-led walkout in the Senate stalling votes on bills, those measures face an uncertain fate.
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