When ballots go out this week, Oregonians will have a chance to decide whether they think gun purchases should be more tightly regulated and magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition banned.
“Oregonians from across the state are saying ‘enough is enough,’” said Anthony Johnson, spokesperson for the Yes On 114 campaign and a gun owner. By tightening the laws regulating gun and ammunition purchases, he said, “We can save lives and reduce gun violence.”
But others argue any law that makes it harder to own a gun violates the Second Amendment.
“I have a philosophical dispute with asking people to ask for permission to exercise a right,” said Kevin Starrett, the leader of the Stop 114 campaign.
What the measure would do
To buy a gun in Oregon today, you need to be 18 and to submit to a federal background check. People prohibited from owning a gun in Oregon include those convicted of felonies, with a few exceptions, people with documented mental illness requiring state intervention, people convicted of a domestic violence or stalking misdemeanor and people subject to an extreme-risk protection order – which happens when one’s gun is removed by the courts. Most of these prohibitions come directly from the federal government.
If Measure 114 passes, it would mean:
- Anyone wanting to purchase a gun in Oregon would have to first obtain a permit by:
- Completing a gun safety class that included hands-on instruction with a firearm
- Submitting to a federal criminal background check
- Magazines containing more than 10 rounds of ammunition would be banned, with exceptions for people who already own larger magazines
Permits would be issued by local law enforcement agencies in a process created and overseen by the Oregon State Police. Permits would not be required to own a firearm, only to purchase one. Current legal gun owners would not need to acquire a permit unless they wanted to buy another gun.
Permits could not cost more than $65 and would be good for five years. There would be no limit on the number of guns a person with a permit could purchase. A database would be kept by the Oregon State Police tracking permit expiration dates.
Qualifying safety courses would have to include instruction on current gun laws, safe handling and storage of firearms, and information on the impact of suicide and homicide on communities. These courses would also require an in-person demonstration of the permit applicant’s “ability to lock, load, unload, fire and store a firearm before an instructor certified by a law enforcement agency.”
The Oregon State Police would not be required to offer the courses directly, though the agency would have some power of approval over course materials and instructors. Proponents are counting on the free market to answer the call for courses, while opponents say the lack of currently available courses would make it nearly impossible to meet the permit requirements. Right now, most gun clubs offer gun-safety courses on an occasional basis, as do independent National Rifle Association-certified instructors.
In addition to the safety course, a federal background check would be required for someone to obtain a permit. The background check itself would be exactly the same as the one already required to purchase a firearm. A person would need to submit to the initial check to get a permit, and then to another one every time they wanted to actually make a purchase.
As of 2021, 3% of background checks in Oregon were not completed instantly and required attention from employees of the Oregon State Police to be finalized, according to a 2021 annual report by the police. Of those, 53% were completed within 10 days. The remaining background checks took longer to complete, with some taking a year or more.
Often the slowdown is due to something minor, like a name change that trips up the internet-based “instant check” but can be easily accounted for by a human. Other times, records are missing or a confusing result needs to be sorted out. Currently, anyone with a pending background check can still buy a firearm after three business days. That loophole would go away under the proposed new law.
Once these qualifications were met under Measure 114, local law enforcement agencies would have 30 days to issue a permit. There would be an appeal process if a permit application were denied.
Oregonians would no longer be able to manufacture, sell or purchase “high-capacity magazines,” defined as magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. People who already own larger magazines could keep them, but could only use them in a few places, including on their own property and on private shooting ranges.
The arguments for and against
Proponents say the proposed new law is a common sense way to ensure responsible gun ownership and make it more difficult for those already banned from owning guns to get them. They point to research that shows a decline in gun deaths after the implementation of similar measures in other states. And they say the time gap between someone deciding they want a gun and being able to get one would lower the number of impulsive purchases, especially among people considering suicide.
“There’s no law that’s going to prevent every suicide or every mass shooting,” said Paul Shively, a hunter and concealed carry license holder who supports Measure 114. But, he said, “I’m just ready as a gun owner to say: ‘We need to step up to the plate and be part of the solution.’”
Shively, 59, grew up hunting in Montana and thinks the new rules will be “a pain in the butt.” He’s OK with that: “You know, if me having to get a new permit to purchase a new firearm saves even one life, then it was worth it for me to do that.”
Gun deaths have been rising in Oregon. In 2020, 593 people died from gunshot wounds. Of those, 77% died by suicide, 19% died by homicide and the rest died in accidents, according to data collected by the Oregon Health Authority.
Opponents of the proposed law say putting more hurdles between law-abiding citizens and firearms is not the way to reduce gun violence. They worry the ban on high-capacity magazines would have unintended consequences, including an effective ban on certain shotguns. And they say putting permit-issuing power in the hands of local law enforcement would create too much of a burden on the agencies and too much of a risk for abuse of power.
There is concern — real and manufactured — that a permit system run by law enforcement agencies would make guns harder to access for people in communities of color, who continue to be disproportionately harmed by police violence and who have little trust in the system.
Miles Pendleton, a recent college graduate and the new president of the Eugene-Springfield branch of the NAACP, said he could appreciate those concerns but believed the measure would ultimately increase safety for BIPOC people who are disproportionately affected by gun violence.
“We always have to be ever concerned about racial implications and how good-faith measures, regardless of what topic they deal with, regardless what form or structure they take, could in any instance be implemented in an inequitable way if we do let our guard down,” Pendleton said.
Ross Eliot, 46, is a leftist blogger and gun owner who believes owning and knowing how to use firearms is necessary for self-defense in a time of what he sees as rising fascism. He raised $1,200 to put a statement of opposition in this year’s voters’ pamphlet.
“I would be much more open to it if it wasn’t the police” issuing permits, Eliot said. As the measure is written, he said he can’t support it. “It’s the overreach, the lack of transparency – and just the incredible ways that it could be used for social harm.”
Eliot, who is white, said he has found a niche teaching people how to acquire and use guns for self-defense. He said many of his clients are people of color who will not speak to the media because they are fearful of what might happen to them if they go public about their gun ownership.
Many proponents of Measure 114 also fear speaking on the record. Johnson, the Yes on 114 campaign spokesperson, declined to name most of his colleagues on the campaign because of continuing threats to their safety from people who they assume are armed.
The state’s official financial impact statement for the measure is “indeterminate.” The original cost estimate predicted about $19 million in permit fee revenue for local governments and a cost to them of about $51 million to set up and run the new permitting system in the first year. The Oregon State Police and Oregon Justice Department both estimated the new system would be close to cost-neutral. Both sides submitted comments challenging these estimates. Ultimately, the financial impact committee concluded that there was too much unknown — including how to estimate cost savings due to fewer gun deaths and how to predict the number of permits that would be issued — to fairly set a potential price point.
Permit and class fees would raise the cost of purchasing a firearm. And there appears to be limited infrastructure for the in-person portion of the course that Measure 114 would require, an issue opponents see as a major hurdle. A simple Google search turned up 84 firing ranges in Oregon, while 338,330 gun-purchase background checks were run in 2021 – the closest proxy for gun purchases in the state.
“IP 17 [now Measure 114] would harm the poor, the rural, and those that quickly need a firearm for self-defense the most,” Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey is quoted as saying on the Stop 114 website.
The measure was written and moved onto the ballot by an almost entirely volunteer effort with the vast majority of its initial funding coming in from small, local donors rather than national advocacy groups. Since then, the measure has vaulted to national prominence as the only 2022 ballot item in the country that would tighten state gun laws.
What the research says about gun-licensing laws and magazine bans
Currently, only seven states and Washington, D.C., have permit-to-purchase laws that apply to all firearms, according to Giffords Law Center, a national gun safety advocacy organization that has donated $100,000 to the effort to pass Measure 114. Nine states and Washington, D.C., ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
With so few similar laws on the books and the difficulty of isolating the effect of one law when conducting research, it is hard to say exactly what the results of Oregon’s Measure 114.
Connecticut created a permit-to-purchase system much like the one Oregon is considering in 1995. In the two decades following, gun deaths in Connecticut declined by 28%, according to a study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. Gun suicides in Connecticut declined by 33% during the same time period.
Connecticut has a web of strict gun laws, including several that Oregon lacks, like child access prevention laws and assault weapons restrictions. But Johnson, with the yes campaign, argues that any reduction in gun deaths in Oregon would justify the new rules.
“Whether Measure 114 reduces gun deaths by 10%, or up to 30% like we’ve seen in Connecticut, it’s a worthwhile endeavor because saving lives is a good thing to invest in for our state,” he said.
Andrew Morral leads RAND’s National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research. RAND is an independent, nonpartisan research firm. To determine the effect of various gun laws, Morral and his team have closely reviewed all of the available research, including the Johns Hopkins studies. Morral said that there is no research proving licensing policies alone have a clear effect on gun violence. But that is not the same as saying they are ineffective, he cautioned.
Legislative decisions should be made when there’s “a good logical reason” to believe the new law will result in the desired outcome, he said, rather than waiting for “rigorous scientific evidence.”
Overall, states with more restrictive gun laws have lower homicide and suicide rates. “That’s a fact,” Morral said, though he cautioned that there’s only limited evidence that the tighter gun laws are the direct cause of these lower rates of death.
Child-access prevention laws and waiting periods do show clear evidence of reducing gun deaths, according to RAND. Waiting periods in particular have been clearly shown to reduce suicide deaths. That’s likely because most people in suicidal crisis will not die by suicide if they survive the worst moments of desperation. Requiring a permit to purchase would effectively create a waiting period for first-time buyers.
Morral also said new research that has not yet been included in RAND’s review shows a decline in mass shootings as a result of bans on high-capacity magazines.
In a presentation to Oregon journalists about the existing gun research, Daniel Webster, the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, pointed to research that shows about a 48% lower rate of fatal mass shootings in states with large-capacity magazine bans.
Would Measure 114 effectively ban sporting shotguns?
Some sporting shotguns are capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition when loaded with mini-shells. The Sportsmen Opposed to Gun Violence PAC argues that guns like these would be effectively banned if Measure 114 passes.
Proponents say this is not true and point to other states – including Colorado, Massachusetts and Vermont – where high-capacity magazines have been banned and shotguns have remained legal. Most skeet and trap shooting ranges already limit the number of shells that can be carried in shotguns for competition. And it’s illegal to hunt with a weapon that holds more than five rounds.
“I just urge my fellow hunters to just step back and be cautious of the rhetoric you’re hearing,” said lifelong hunter Shively and supporter of the measure.”The right to own guns doesn’t go away with this. It just adds a little bit more accountability.”
Would Measure 114 create a moratorium on gun purchases until permits were available?
While it is not explicitly outlined in the text of the measure, it is highly likely that gun sales would continue under current regulations until a new permitting system could be created. That would be more in keeping with how the rulemaking process is typically executed after a new law is passed.
While the state might place a moratorium on gun purchases until the new system was in place, such a move would be almost immediately challenged in courts as unconstitutional, according to Ofer Raban, a constitutional law professor at the University of Oregon.
It is more typical in situations where voters approve a law that requires a new state-run system that the Oregon State Police would issue an exception to needing to participate in a new system until that system was up and running.