By JONATHAN J. COOPER | Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) —An Oregon Senate committee will hear public testimony this week on a proposal by gun-control advocates to require a background check any time someone sells or gives a firearm to another person who isn't a relative. Here are five things to know about Oregon's universal background-check proposal.
WHAT IT DOES
The bill requires gun buyers and sellers who aren't related to visit a licensed gun dealer that can, for a fee, run a background check through the Oregon State Police. Oregon law prohibits giving a gun to minors, felons, people with recent convictions for violent behavior or those who have been found by a court to have a mental illness.
If someone tries to buy a gun but fails a background check, the State Police would be required to notify the local sheriff and police chief.
Background checks would not be required when someone transfers to a gun to these relatives: spouse or domestic partner, parent or stepparent, child or stepchild, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, aunt or uncle, first cousin, niece or nephew.
The seller of a gun would face a misdemeanor for a first offense, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $6,250 fine. A second offense would be a felony, with a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The bill would take effect 90 days after it's passed.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
The debate is falling along familiar lines. Gun-control advocates say the bill would make it tougher for people who shouldn't have guns to get ahold of them. They acknowledge that background checks won't prevent all gun-related violence, but they say the background-check requirements haven't caught up with the information tools of the Internet age.
“My goal is to keep individuals who shouldn't have access to guns from having easy access to guns,” said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat who is sponsoring the bill.
Gun-rights supporters say the bill would trample on their 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. They say the bill will only affect people who try to abide by the law, because crafty criminals won't be deterred from finding a weapon. They also complain that the Oregon State Police background-check system sometimes returns faulty results.
“If they were saying, `Yes, it's an inconvenience for you people, but at least we're getting bad guys off the street,' I'd still object to it philosophically, but they'd have a practical argument,” said Kevin Starrett, head of the Oregon Firearms Federation. “But they're not getting bad people off the street.”
HOW TO WEIGH IN
The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a public hearing on the measure 8 a.m. Wednesday at the state Capitol in Salem. Members of the public are invited to testify, but there's no guarantee that everyone will get a chance.
Oregonians also can also email or call their senator. Contact information for all 30 senators is on the Legislature's website, www.oregonlegislature.gov.
For the past four years, the Oregon Senate's 16-14 divide between Republicans and Democrats has been a roadblock for gun-control initiatives. Democratic Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, who represents a rural area and takes a skeptical eye toward gun restrictions, has joined all 14 Republicans to block them.
But after Democrats picked up two additional seats in the November election, the bill now faces much stronger prospects of success. The tougher challenge could be in the House, where lawmakers face more frequent elections and haven't been asked to weigh in recently on gun control. Democrats have 35 of the 60 seats, however, so the bill can survive even if four Democrats are opposed.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says Oregon would be the eighth state to require background checks on private gun sales and the fifth since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. The seven states with expanded background checks are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, Rhode Island and Washington.