New bill seeks major changes to Oregon’s gun laws

Senate Bill 501 still in committee

Feb. 13, 2019 — The introduction into the Oregon Legislature of a bill primarily crafted by students in Lake Oswego has created a firestorm of debate that is quickly sweeping through the nation.

Senate Bill 501 was introduced in January by District 19 Democrat Sen. Rob Wagner and has drawn the attention and ire of gun rights groups in Oregon and across the country. Cosponsored by fellow Democrat from District 38, Rep. Andrea Salinas, the bill would require any individual that wished to purchase a firearm to obtain a permit before receiving a gun of any type.

However, most controversial about the proposed law is that it would also severely restrict the number of rounds an individual could purchase each month.

The legislation was written with input from Ceasefire Oregon, a student-led advocacy group that is working to reduce gun violence. The group was formed in 1994 and has re-emerged as a national voice on the subject of gun violence.

Of concern for gun owners is the rollback of laws that have been in place since Oregon adopted its constitution in 1857. The National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Institute for Legislative Action has targeted SB 501 as “the worst of the laws introduced since the seating of legislators elected in the 2018 mid-terms.”

According to the NRA’s online analysis, “In Oregon, we see just how extreme the anti-gun legislative agenda has become, thanks to Sen. Wagner and his proposal, which … seeks to enact a number of draconian restrictions on Oregon’s law-abiding gun owners. … When you turn over the responsibility of creating new laws to children, you can expect some real doozies — and SB 501 delivers in spades. This truly extreme bill, should it become law, would establish magazine capacity limits and ammunition restrictions that only a child with little knowledge of the practical, lawful use of firearms could envisage.”

One of the most contentious elements of the legislation would require anyone that wished to purchase a firearm to fill out and submit an application, which would then be investigated by a member of the local sheriff’s department. The loose protocols and flexibility that the legislation gives to the investigating officer to reject an application is also of particular concern to gun rights supporters. If the investigation revealed no cause for rejection, of which there are many, then the applicant could buy one hand gun.

This process seems to many gun owners to be clearly unconstitutional, as it restricts the right of citizens to arm themselves as they see fit.

There are also major concerns with sections of SB 501 that require valid state identification to purchase ammunition and limit legal purchases of ammunition to 20 individual rounds per month.

This relatively small number of rounds is ill considered, according to the NRA, which argues that practicing with a firearm is an essential part of becoming proficient in gun management and accuracy.

“The most egregious aspect of the ammunition limits, however, is that the more you shoot, the safer and more proficient you become,” the group’s website states. “This legislation, sold as a ‘gun-safety’ bill, could actually make law-abiding gun owners less safe, as they will undoubtedly practice less. Especially those who do most of their practicing in a lawful, safe manner, but not at a ‘target shooting range’ sanctioned by the gun control crowd.”

The legislation would also ban all magazines with a capacity greater than five rounds, requiring owners to turn into authorities any magazines that exceeded that limit. This insertion of state authorities into the processes governing firearm sales could be problematic and would likely spark numerous legal challenges as more of the specifics of the plan come to light.

There also appear to be issues with the enactment of SB 501, if it passes. The conflict with the Second Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights is foremost of these, as the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives federal law priority over state law.

This would mean the bill might be found to be unconstitutional.

In addition, there would also be considerable penalties attached to potential violations of the legislation. The receipt of a firearm without a valid permit could face a maximum of 364 days of imprisonment, a $6,250 fine, or both. It also requires a person who owns or possesses firearms to secure those firearms with trigger or cable lock, or in locked container. It penalizes a failure to secure a firearm by maximum of 30 days’ imprisonment, a $1,250 fine, or both.

In its prohibition of possessing a magazine with capacity to hold more than five rounds of ammunition, the law provides that a person in possession of such magazine must sell or otherwise dispose of those magazines within 180 days of effective date of act. Failure to do so could result in 364 days of imprisonment, a $6,250 fine, or both.

The reaction to the introduction of SB 501 has been swift, not only from the gun lobby but also from state legislators.

Rep. Lynn Findley (R-Vale) of House District 60 said, “The people in my district have vocalized that they will not tolerate the new gun legislation being proposed, specifically in SB 501. This legislation was introduced at the request of students living in the Portland metro area as a response to the devastating school shootings we have witnessed over the past few years. Although I believe that all Oregonians deserve to have their voices heard and we have the responsibility to ensure our students feel safe and protected in their schools, this legislation will not provide the desired outcome. Instead it would create nonsensical restrictions at the expense of law-abiding gun owners. I will therefore be voting against SB 501.”

The bill, which has just begun a long process through the Oregon Legislature, is currently pending discussion and approval in the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee after being referred to the judiciary on Jan. 16.

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