Statewide gun control measure under fire

Law enforcement officials, courts continue challenge of controversial proposed law

By Benny Westcott
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Following its passage by a narrow 50.6% statewide majority in November, a controversial firearms measure has encountered a series of stumbling blocks on its way to becoming law.

Measure 114, which would ban the sale or transfer of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition and require buyers to obtain permits to purchase a gun after completing a firearms safety course, was set to go into effect Thursday, Dec. 8, a month after Election Day.

But before that could happen, Harney County residents Cliff Asmussen and Joseph Arnold joined with two Virginia-based groups, the Gun Owners of America and the Gun Owners Foundation, to challenge it in court. The lawsuit led Harney County Circuit Judge Robert S. Raschio to issue a temporary restraining order blocking the measure two days before it went into effect. (The state’s Justice Department responded the following morning by filing a petition to ask the Oregon Supreme Court to review the ruling and vacate the decision. The higher court declined.) A more in-depth hearing on the matter was scheduled this week after press time.

Measure 114 had passed Tuesday, Nov. 8, by only 25,000 votes. It was victorious overall in six Oregon counties — including Multnomah, Washington, Lane and Benton — but failed in the other 30. Linn County opposed it resoundingly with 70% of its voting population.

Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan took a strong stance on the measure the following day, posting a reaction on the Linn County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. “This is a terrible law for gun owners, crime victims, and public safety,” she wrote.

Despite the measure’s passage, she stated that the department would not enforce magazine-capacity limits.

In a recent conversation with The New Era, new Sweet Home Police Chief Jason Ogden said that his department wouldn’t give much attention to it, either.

“We, like most other agencies, have struggled filling vacancies,” he said. “So given our limited resources, we’re not going to focus our investigations on the magazine-capacity issues. We’ve always strived to use education and discretion as tools to help people understand laws.”

As the department has struggled to maintain full staffing in recent years, Ogden expressed concern about shifting resources to fulfill the new measure.

“I foresee it potentially taking away from patrolling and investigations to assign somebody or somebodies to process permits,” he said. “But it’s so new that I have no idea what it’s going to take.

“The challenges that we face for the permitting process is that we don’t know how many additional resources it’s going to take to do that,” he continued. “We live in east Linn County, and there are going to be a number of people that are wanting to get a permit for a firearm, and I just don’t know what kind of resources that’s going to take in order to process those permits.”

If and when the permit-to-purchase law goes into effect, Ogden stressed that his department would work to make it efficient.

“We understand as a department that this permit process is important, and we don’t want to hold people back from being able to purchase firearms,” he said. “We want to do whatever we can to help make it possible for people to get their firearms. What that looks like I honestly don’t know, because this is so new for everyone.

“If there is a permit process, we want to focus on how we can get that into place so that people aren’t waiting around for a long time to purchase a firearm,” he continued. “We want to uphold people’s constitutional rights to purchase firearms, and we don’t want to slow that down in any way. We already have background checks in place for this, and this is additional things that they’re requiring people to do in order to purchase firearms.”

Ogden said he personally voted against Measure 114.

“I felt like it was infringing on constitutional rights,” he explained. “And regarding the permit process, if people are going to apply for a firearm, they already have to go through a process for a background check. So I didn’t see any reason for adding additional steps to that.”

He didn’t think the measure would address mass shootings or gun-safety issues.

“People are going to acquire whatever weapon it may be to do what they want to do, aside from any type of law or ballot measure,” he said. “People are going to do what they want to do, and if people are going to make decisions to commit evil, they will likely find the means to do that. If it’s a mental health issue, let’s try to address the mental health issue.”

Ogden did note a positive, however: the measure has spurred conversations about shootings and gun safety.

“It gets people talking, it gets people thinking,” he said. “And maybe there are ways that we can address concerns or issues regarding gun violence.”

With the measure currently in legal limbo, Ogden thinks the Oregon State Police will put together guidelines on implementation should it go into effect, giving more clarity to departments statewide.

“We’re just kind of waiting to hear,” he said.