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Oregon lawmakers debate multiple gun bills


SALEM (AP) — For the Oregon Legislature, it’s not a question of whether any firearms legislation will pass this session.

It’s really a question about what will pass. Gov. Kate Brown has made firearms legislation a priority. Democratic leadership, in the majority, is backing her up.

Lawmakers also have ideas of their own. So do high school students from Lake Oswego.

The debate runs along a well-worn path for legislators in Oregon and statehouses across the nation in recent years. The nation’s wave of mass shootings has heightened public awareness of the consequences of firearms, particularly high-powered rifles, falling into the wrong hands.

The proposals — like mandatory gun locks, defining assault rifles and limiting ammunition purchases — draw criticism from Oregonians seeking to protect their way of life and fearful that legislation will have unintended consequences that go beyond preventing tragedies.

The debate will extend well beyond one idea or bill. There are a slew of bills, some with a broader impact than others. Oregonians could face limits in the size of magazines and how many rounds of ammunition they can purchase.

Here’s a look at some of the firearms-related bills and issues lawmakers are proposing this session:

Governor’s gun legislation

Brown requested House Bill 2251, a 17-page bill that is wide-reaching. The legislation defines assault rifles and forbids their sale or transfer to people under 21 years old. Violators face up to 364 days in jail and a $6,250 fine, or both.

Brown told reporters Thursday that priorities include closing the domestic violence loopholes that allow firearm possession and “making sure our anti-discrimination laws for young people enable us to restrict access to assault weapons for young people.”

She added: “I don’t think that people under the age of 21 should be able to buy assault weapons.”

Current law prohibits selling handguns to people under 21.

The bill also creates a misdemeanor crime of endangering a minor by allowing children to have access to firearms either deliberately without their parent’s consent or through carelessness by keeping firearms in a place where minors could access it.

Under the bill, minors can only possess a firearm legally with the consent of their parent or guardian. The proposal doesn’t apply in cases when the firearm is locked or the minor illegally broke into the premises where the firearm is kept.

Ammunition limits

Senate Bill 501 is the firearms bill that is among the strictest. It would limit ammunition purchases to 20 rounds in a 30-day period and prohibit firearm magazines that can hold more than five rounds.

It also puts a permit requirement in place before purchasing a firearm and mandates gun locks and safes.

Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Tualatin, and Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, brought the bill forward at the request of Students for Change, a group of students from Lake Oswego pushing for reforms in the wake of the 2018 Parkland shooting, where 17 people died at a Florida high school.

Wagner said the bill is intended to start a discussion about firearms and the concepts in the bill are likely to change with more discussion, including from students.

No other bill attempts to achieve as many gun-control goals as SB 501.

”This is about students feeling like they can engage with their elected officials,” he said. “If they want to have a conversation about this, let’s empower them to have a conversation about it.”

Sportsmen have concerns about the bill, including the 20-round limit restricting how much hunting they can do. The limits on magazine clips are also a concern.

”We read it as it would virtually ban every revolver, every handgun and every rifle — most of them,” Findlay said.

Gun locks

Firearms would have to be safely stored, either in a locked safe or secured with a trigger lock or cable lock, under House Bill 2505.

Its co-sponsor, Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, called the measure a “public health approach to a public health crisis.”

Violators face fines: up to $500 per violation, or up to $2,000 for cases in which a minor obtains the firearm because it was unsecured.

The fines for violators would be through citations, not felony or misdemeanors.

”It’s just an expectation, but it’s not criminalizing it,” she said.

In comparison, Senate Bill 501 has a potential 30-day jail sentence for not using a gun lock or safe.

Smith Warner said the bill would help address suicides by putting an added step that interrupts the act and stops people.

A similar bill, Senate Bill 275, is pending in the Senate. One of its chief sponsors, Sen. James I. Manning Jr., D-Eugene, said the goal of the bill is to keep children from accessing loaded guns and hurting themselves or others.

“This bill is designed to save lives,” he said. “It’s not designed to take away anybody’s Second Amendment rights.”

Limiting age for buying long guns

Senate Bill 87 would allow gun dealers to set a minimum age of 21 for customers to purchase ammunition or long guns like rifles and shotguns.

The bill comes after Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods faced a lawsuit in 2018 from a 20-year-old Oregon man after they won’t sell him a firearm because of his age. Both stores had policies of not selling to customers under 21.

State law sets the minimum age for buying a shotgun or rifle at 18.

”I do think allowing retailers to not sell to anyone under the age of 21 is something retailers are asking us to give them, so I think that would be one of those things that moves or could move,” Kotek said.

‘Do not sell’ list

People could opt into a voluntary “do not sell” list for firearms, under House Bill 2705.

Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, said the bill is focused on suicide prevention and mental health. Anyone requesting to be placed on the list would have their information entered into the background check system used for firearm sales.

If someone wants to be removed, they have to wait 21 days. During that period, an emailed notice can go to any designated family members. Rayfield said he’s hopeful the voluntary nature of the program will help it avoid becoming a contentious issue.

But that’s not guaranteed.

”I think there is a general fear in this building that any bill with the word ‘firearm’ in it is going to cause intense and immediate negative reaction among certain subsets of legislators that really care about the Second Amendment,” he said. “And so I think the real question is going to be how much tolerance is there to hear all of these bills that are creating more headlines than mine.”

Concealed handgun licenses

Not every bill would put restrictions in place. Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, is making a run again at getting Oregon to recognize concealed handgun licenses from any other state, or reciprocity.

House Bill 2298 will die, if past efforts are any indication.

“I don’t have high hopes,” said Rep. Post, who has pushed similar legislation in 2017 and 2015, when it passed the House.

He compares the concept to out-of-state driver licenses.

“We have no problem with people driving a three-ton vehicle across the border,” he said. We don’t even blink about driver’s licenses.”

”It’s definitely not going to be a pro-gun legislative session,” Post said.

Gun safety training

Firearm safety training would be an option for schools, under one proposal. House Bill 2287 would allow, but not require, school districts to have firearm safety training for either students or adult members of the public.

The bill would require the trainer to be a certified firearms instructor and encourages working with local law enforcement. Training could provide basic instruction like determining if a firearm is loaded or unloaded or in how to use a firearm for trap shooting and hunting.

”This bill says that as a matter of public policy that it is an advantageous pursuit to offer safe firearms training,” said Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie.

Tax breaks

Two bills would give tax credits for costs tied to getting background checks and purchasing gun safes. House Bill 2291 would put a tax credit in place for gun safe and lock purchases. The bill would give a tax credit of $50 for an individual or $100 for a joint return, said its sponsor, Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie.

Asked if gun safes should be mandatory, Witt said it should be the individual gun owner’s choice. With gun safety training, people who have children at home are inclined to keep their firearms locked up, he said.

However, an individual who lives in an home with no children may believe it’s necessary to have a firearm readily accessible for personal protection.

”I think that individual needs to be able to make that call,” he said.

House Bill 2546 would provide a tax credit based on the mileage a resident travels to get a background check completed for a firearms transfer. Rep. Paul Evans, its sponsor, said the proposal would be particularly helpful for rural Oregon residents who face long drives.

“I have a belief if we require people to do something, we should make it as easy as possible to comply,” Evans said.



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