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Officials face tight timeline for Oregon’s new firearm permit rules

In this Feb. 19, 2021, file photo, firearms are displayed at a gun shop in Salem, Ore. Measure 114 requires Oregonians to get a permit to buy a new gun, and it prohibits the sale, possession and use of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. The new rules are set to go into effect Dec. 8.
Andrew Selsky
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In this Feb. 19, 2021, file photo, firearms are displayed at a gun shop in Salem, Ore. Measure 114 requires Oregonians to get a permit to buy a new gun, and it prohibits the sale, possession and use of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. The new rules are set to go into effect Dec. 8.

Less than two weeks remain for Oregon officials to hammer out a complex permitting regime for firearm ownership under Measure 114, and that could put the state in a constitutionally precarious spot.

Some gun rights advocates worry that if a permit mandate takes effect before a process is in place to acquire those permits, it could halt gun sales in Oregon.

“Net effect is they’re going to shut down all gun stores and basically no one is going to be able to buy a firearm, which is totally in violation of Second Amendment rights,” Second Amendment Foundation Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb said in an interview.

Gottlieb’s organization plans to sue Oregon in federal court hoping to get the voter passed laws thrown out.

The Oregon Firearms Federation, along with Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey and a gun store owner, filed a similar lawsuit Nov. 18 asking a federal judge to toss the law. On Wednesday, they requested a preliminary injunction preventing the provisions from being enacted, including the law’s ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. U.S. District Judge Karin J. Immergut will hear arguments in that case Dec. 2.

The Oregon State Police are responsible for drafting the rules implementing Measure 114, which passed Nov. 8 on a slim margin. Spokesperson Capt. Stephanie Bigman said the state police are not looking to delay the implementation and did not anticipate any pause to gun sales.

In a statement issued Nov. 17, the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association sounded more skeptical, saying it expected all gun sales and transfers to stop when the law goes into effect.

OSSA did not respond to questions asking why its assessment differed from the state police.

A federal firearms licensee, who didn’t want to use his name for fear of retribution against his business, said the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association and Oregon State Police have been reaching out to businesses in the state to gauge how many gun safety classes businesses could offer. Completing a safety class will be a required part of getting a permit to purchase a firearm once the law goes into effect.

“They have no idea how to do those classes,” the licensee said. “There is a live fire component. [Oregon State Police] are asking around about giving those to firearms training facilities to do that for them.”

The licensee said he thinks Oregon doesn’t currently have the capacity to permit everyone who wants to buy firearms.

Currently, sheriff’s offices administer the state’s concealed handgun licensing process. Applicants for that license pay $115 and have to take a firearm safety course, fill out an application, get fingerprinted, and pass a background check. The background check is conducted by the sheriff’s office with help from the Oregon State Police if a national criminal record check is necessary.

Some sheriffs offices offer the requisite training course either in person or online for an additional fee.

“We don’t see a way forward for this to take place,” the federal firearms licensee said, adding gun store owners would be losing their livelihood if guns couldn’t be sold until permitting takes place.

But it isn’t clear if, once the particulars come into focus, the new law will impact gun sales. And based on state data, it’s also difficult to determine how the law will impact sheriff’s offices.

Sheriff offices across the state issued 308,408 concealed carry permits in 2021, according to the Oregon State Police. Firearms sales aren’t tracked in Oregon but background checks are often used as a proxy because they are required for each purchase. The Oregon State Police averaged 929 background checks per day in 2021. That means an estimated 339,085 firearms were sold in Oregon in 2021.

In the first year under the new law, every person who buys a firearm will need to get a permit to purchase, roughly 340,000 people based on 2021 numbers. But permits are good for five years so the initial surge in demand would likely taper. It’s also not clear from the state’s data how many of the people who purchased firearms in 2021 already held concealed handgun licenses or chose not to apply for one, making it difficult to infer what impact the permit requirement will have on sheriff departments’ work loads.

Several sheriffs offices in the state and OSSA have said the $65 maximum fee for a permit to purchase a firearm — less than the fee for a concealed carry permit — will not cover the added workload.

OSSA didn’t respond to questions about how it estimated the law would change demand for agency resources.

“In most law enforcement agencies there is no personnel or money to fund this required program,” the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association said in a statement. “This will result in other public safety resources being reduced to cover the costs of implementing a new permit program.”

Liz McKanna, who is with gun regulation advocacy group Lift Every Voice Oregon and worked on the Measure 114 campaign, said the requirement that people demonstrate an ability to shoot a firearm does not necessarily have to be with live ammunition.

“We require hands-on,” she explained. “You could, in fact, just have dry fire practice. It’s simply, shooting a gun…pulling a trigger, knowing what it’s like. It doesn’t have to have live ammunition.”

But, she added, the final rules are up to the state and they could elect to require a live fire component.

A spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Justice said the agency is assisting in the rules-making process as requested by Oregon State Police.

“We are working through some of these questions in real time — and hope to have more guidance for state agencies and the public as soon as we can,” the spokesperson said last week.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Jonathan Levinson