PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge in Portland, Oregon, ruled Tuesday that a new voter-passed ban on high-capacity gun magazines can go into effect Thursday, but placed a 30-day hold on a permit-to-purchase requirement after local and state law enforcement agencies said they could not have a permitting system ready in time.
U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut, however, did not prevent the permit-to-purchase mandate from taking effect once the permitting system was worked out, according to the ruling. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum had filed papers with the court late Sunday seeking a delay in the implementation of the permitting mandate after law enforcement agencies submitted sworn statements saying they could not be ready in time.
“In light of the difficulty the State has conceded in terms of implementation of the permitting provisions at this stage, implementation of those permitting provisions is stayed for thirty days,” Immergut wrote.
Measure 114, which narrowly passed in the midterms, requires a permit, criminal background check, fingerprinting and hands-on training course for new firearms buyers and bans the sale, transfer or import of high-capacity gun magazines except in certain cases. The requirement that a background check must be completed before a gun can be sold or transferred will also take effect Thursday. Previously, a gun could be sold or transferred after three days if the background check had not come back.
Multiple gun rights groups, local sheriffs and gun store owners have sued, saying the law violates Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms. The Oregon Firearms Federation, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement Tuesday they were disappointed with the ruling and urged their supporters to remain patient as they gathered more information about next steps.
“But for now, unless something really unexpected happens, understand that your rights will be, once again, seriously eroded starting Thursday,” the group wrote.
The interfaith coalition that placed Measure 114 on the ballot said it appreciated the judge's ruling and understood the need for a delay in the permit-to-purchase provision to sort out the process.
“We want the best results possible. We’d like to see the permitting in place this week because that would save lives, but at the same time we understand that it will take longer to do it well,” said Mark Knutson, chairman of the Lift Every Voice Oregon campaign and pastor at Portland’s Augustana Lutheran Church.
“For us, it’s all about saving lives and safety.”
Tuesday's ruling is far from the end of the legal wrangling over the new law; at least four lawsuits have been filed against it. And Immergut's decision only addresses an initial temporary restraining order sought by gun rights plaintiffs as the law's constitutionality is debated by the courts. More hearings in this case, and others, are scheduled going forward.
The plaintiffs in the current case — the Oregon Firearms Federation, three sheriffs, a gun store owner and a private individual — had filed a joint motion seeking an emergency order to prevent the law from taking effect and challenging the ban on high-capacity magazines.
Gun store owners and the Oregon State Police have reported a surge in gun sales and in requests for background checks since the measure passed Nov. 8 as people seek to buy firearms before it takes effect.
Measure 114's fate is being carefully watched by both gun rights advocates and those who want stricter limits on gun ownership because it is one of the first to take effect after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a New York law that placed limits on carrying guns outside the home.
The June ruling signaled a shift in the way the nation’s high court will evaluate Second Amendment infringement claims, with the Supreme Court's conservative majority finding judges should no longer consider whether the law serves public interests like enhancing public safety.
Instead, judges should only weigh whether the law is “consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and historical understanding.”
Gun-rights supporters have called the June ruling a “wrecking ball” for firearms restrictions. Since then, federal judges in Texas have struck down a law against adults under 21 carrying handguns and a ban on people under indictment from buying firearms. Judges have also blocked measures in West Virginia, Delaware and Colorado.
Other gun regulations have survived challenges since the ruling, however, including one involving ghost guns in California and one on non-violent felons owning guns in Pennsylvania.
“This is not an abstract exercise -- when a judge strikes down a gun law, they are putting our lives in danger. Bruen may have opened the door to extremism, but it does not close the door to gun safety and states can and should continue to pass common sense gun safety laws. And we’re ready to go to court to defend them,” Eric Tirschwell, executive director of Everytown Law, said in a statement, referring to the June decision.
Still, the Supreme Court also sent back to a lower court for review a California ban on high-capacity magazines that’s similar to Oregon’s new law.
Immergut noted in her 43-page ruling that the Second Amendment landscape had changed because of the New York case but also pointed out that the high court said its ruling should not be considered a blanket rejection of individual state's rules around firearms permitting.
The New York ruling is not a “regulatory straight jacket” that protects a right to “keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose," she wrote, citing the New York case.
Under Oregon's new law, the ban on the sale, import or transfer of magazines over 10 rounds unless they are owned by law enforcement or a military member or were owned before the measure’s passage has been the biggest legal flash point. Those who already own high-capacity magazines can only possess them in their homes or use them at a firing range, in shooting competitions or for hunting as allowed by state law after the measure takes effect.
Such magazines sold to or used by law enforcement or military members after Thursday will require a special marking to signal it's legal under the exceptions spelled out in the law; gun store owners must get rid all other high-capacity magazines after Thursday.
The law also requires gun buyers to obtain a permit to purchase a new firearm. Permit applicants must take a state-approved, hands-on gun safety training course with live or dry rounds, submit a photo ID and undergo fingerprinting and a criminal background check. The state will keep a list of permit-holders that’s exempt from public disclosure. The $65 permits will be good for five years and can be used to buy multiple guns in that five-year period with a fresh background check.
State laws requiring a permit to purchase a firearm were associated with 60% lower odds of having a public mass shooting, according to a study published in 2020. Limits on large-capacity magazines, meanwhile, were linked with 38% fewer people killed in mass shootings, it found.
Defendants noted in their legal filings, which were cited in the judge’s ruling, that every mass shooting since 2004 that resulted in 14 or more deaths involved gun magazines with 10 or more rounds.
Whitehurst reported from Washington.
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