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Omnibus senate bill calls for strict Oregon gun control laws

The crowd at a Tuesday public hearing was large enough that two additional hearing rooms were opened, where activists watched a live stream of the hearing while waiting for a chance to testify.

SALEM, Ore. — Second Amendment supporters and gun control advocates came to an over flow public hearing Tuesday morning at the Capitol for Senate Bill 978, which calls for strict controls on storage of guns and untraceable weapons.

The crowd was large enough that two additional hearing rooms were opened, where activists watched a live stream of the hearing while waiting for a chance to testify.

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On its face, the bill was introduced in early March as a request for Oregon State Police to conduct a study on illegal gun sales.

Amendments introduced March 28 and up to Tuesday add many of the components dropped, for now, from other gun control bills brought forward by student activists and clergy groups.

Gone in Senate Bill 978 are outright bans on assault-style rifles, limits on the sizes of magazines in rifles and the amount of ammunition a person can buy per month. 

What remains, though, is a tough crackdown on firearms storage and owner accountability. 

The legislation is a response to the 2012 Clackamas Town Center shooting, when a 22-year-old masked man stole an assault-style weapon from a friend's apartment and went on a shooting rampage at a crowded shopping mall outside Portland, killing two before turning the gun on himself.

Paul Kemp, brother-in-law of one of the victims, testified in favor of stricter gun laws saying he was frustrated that the original gun owner could not be held responsible for allowing his weapon to fall into the wrong hands

"There have to be consequences for those reckless and careless gun owners when it leads to the injury and death of others," he said.

The proposal would also tighten regulations around 3-D-printed guns and other untraceable firearms, requiring that those who build these weapons to pass a background check. It would also allow retailers to set a minimum purchasing age of firearms and other accessories to 18, 19, 20 or 21. Walmart, Dick's Sporting Goods and other major retailers have raised the minimum purchasing age to 21 and have been slapped with age discrimination lawsuits in response. 

A separate measure would also tightens an existing law banning domestic abusers from possessing firearms, setting out compliance regulations and closing a loophole that allowed people with temporary restraining orders to avoid relinquishing their weapons if they skipped court hearings.

Gov. Kate Brown supports the tightened restrictions, saying that common-sense gun control is the first step to preventing gun violence from "devastating families and households throughout the state of Oregon."

"Just as it's important to wear a seatbelt or a helmet, it's critical that people keep their guns safely stored when not in use, particularly when children are in the home," she said.

Gun-rights advocates slammed the proposals, saying that the plan strips their Second Amendment rights and unfairly punishes law-abiding gun owners who rely on guns for personal protection. Many added that requiring firearms to be kept in a locked box prevents gun owners from accessing their weapons quickly in case of an emergency.

Joshua Underwood, CEO of the firearms manufacturer Radian Weapons, said that further regulations won't stop weapons from staying out of the wrong hands and that firearms are an important tool in preventing future mass shootings.

"The public would be greatly impaired in their ability to protect themselves and their unarmed citizens around them," said Underwood, who organized a Defend the 2nd Rally at the Oregon State Capitol last week that drew thousands. "These laws will have no effect on holding back criminals from obtaining illegal weapons to commit violence."

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on the omnibus package early next week.

Here are highlights from the amended version.

  • Gun dealers may choose what age between 18 and 21 to sell a gun to a buyer. 
  • When not carrying or using a gun, it must have a trigger or cable and be kept in a secure container or kept in a secure gun room.
  • Leaving firearms where a reasonable person would know that a minor can access those weapons is a crime.
  • If a person uses a gun owned by another person and causes injury to people or damage to property, the owner of the gun is also liable for the injury.
  • The owner of a stolen firearm must report the loss to authorities within 72 hours. If the weapon is used to injure a person or damage property the owner is liable.
  • A person who furnishes a firearm to a minor must directly supervise the minor. If the minor cause injury to people or damage too property, the owner is liable.
  • Gun dealers must prominently post signs in their stores that unsafe storage of weapons, or storage that allows access to minors, is against the law.
  • The definition of a firearm includes components, specifically the unfinished frame or receiver, that make up a firearm.
  • Creating, owning, importing or selling a less or undetectable firearm is a crime.
  • Creating, owning, importing or selling downloadable, untraceable firearms is a crime.
  • Owning a gun with an unfinished frame or receiver that has no authorized serial number is a crime.
  • There are exceptions to the proposed firearms laws for a federally licensed gun dealer. Also, these rules may exempt antique weapons. Acts of self-defense may also be considered an exception.
  • Two convictions of unsafe storage of a firearm constitutes unlawful possession of a firearm.
  • Someone violating the frame or receiver laws forfeits the right to possess firearms.
  • Hospitals must submit information to the Oregon Health Authority about patients treated for gunshot wounds. It will be held in confidence but will be collated to assist analysis of gunfire incidents.
  • Local governments, Portland International Airport, colleges and schools may adopt rules amending concealed weapons permits.