Marion, Polk County sheriffs to hold back on enforcing new gun control law as effective date approaches

The sheriff’s offices in Marion and Polk counties won’t immediately enforce a new state gun control law banning high-capacity bullet magazines after the legislation takes effect in two weeks.

Oregon voters in the November election narrowly passed Measure 114, which will require obtaining a permit through a police agency and passing a criminal background check to legally buy firearms. The law also bans magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

The measure passed with 50.69% of the vote, or 960,649, with 49.31% voting against it, though election results have yet to be certified. It failed overwhelmingly in the Salem area, with 57.6% voting against the measure in Marion County and 59.71% opposing it in Polk County.

The new law is intended to reduce gun violence, according to its supporters. Detractors, including Polk County Sheriff Mark Garton, say the measure is unconstitutional. 

Under the new law, Oregonians must obtain a permit from their local sheriff’s office or police department to buy firearms. To be eligible for a permit, people must complete a law enforcement firearms training course or a class offered for security guards, investigators, reserve or other law enforcement officers. They will also need to pass a criminal background check and pay a maximum $65 fee.

County and state governments oversee firearm education, permits, sales and purchase processes. That means the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police are responsible for implementing the measure in Salem, not the city, according to Angela Hedrick, Salem Police Department spokeswoman.

Marion County Sheriff Joe Kast wrote in a statement Nov. 16 that he was working with the Oregon State Sheriffs Association and Marion County attorneys to learn more about what the new law requires and what services his agency is expected to provide.

“As with any new bill or legislation, we’ll be diligent in our efforts to understand the requirements, develop processes and procedures to comply with mandated provisions, and vigilantly monitor any potential litigation to ensure we are abiding by current case law,” he said.

Kast said there will likely be legal challenges to the measure that won’t be resolved before it becomes law. “To protect the interests of our law-abiding community members, we still need to be prepared to assist the residents of Marion County with a pathway to exercise their right to lawfully purchase firearms in the state of Oregon,” he said.

The measure will take effect Dec. 8, but state officials and potentially lawmakers must still create rules for how it will work, according to reporting by Oregon Capital Chronicle. Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey, the Oregon Firearms Federation and Keizer gun store owner Adam Johnson filed a federal lawsuit Friday against Gov. Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, seeking to block the new law.

Both Kast and Garton said they expect the law will strain their agencies’ staffing and resources.

“Moving forward, we will prioritize our services towards the areas of greatest need to best serve the residents and visitors within Marion County, therefore will not be focusing investigations on magazine capacity issues,” Kast wrote. “Over the next several weeks we will share additional information as it becomes available.”

Garton said he believes the measure is unconstitutional based on other court rulings in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“While the office of Sheriff can not deem a law unconstitutional on their own, I feel confident that this measure will be challenged within the judicial branch,” he said. “This Sheriff’s Office won’t focus on enforcing this law in any fashion until at which time it has been reviewed by a court. I want to assure you that your deputies are a talented and dedicated group of individuals that already have a challenging profession. They are generally going from one call to another during their shift and it leaves very little time for additional enforcement priorities, especially as it pertains to what seems to be an unconstitutional measure.”

When local law enforcement agencies issue or revoke permits to purchase firearms, they will have to report doing so to the Oregon State Police to add to a database of permits and their status. 

The Oregon State Sheriff’s Association wrote in a public statement on Nov. 17 that the revenue the permits would generate wouldn’t come close to covering the costs of the new program. 

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

After the law takes effect, it will be a class A misdemeanor to manufacture, import, possess, use, purchase, sell or otherwise transfer large-capacity magazines, with limited exceptions for licensed gun dealers and manufacturers. 

A person facing the charge can be exonerated if they can prove in court that they owned the large-capacity magazine before the effective date, and that the magazine was on the person’s property, the premises of a licensed gun dealer, at a public or private shooting range or being transported to one of those places if the magazine is locked in a container separate from the gun.

Proof of completing programs required for a concealed handgun license can be submitted as a substitute for classes needed for a permit to purchase.

The state sheriff’s association said in its statement that all firearm sales by dealers, at gun shows and most private transfers except to a close relative will likely immediately stop in Oregon once the measure takes effect.

The association said those who obtain a permit to purchase will still need to go through another background check when they want to buy a firearm to get approval from the Oregon State Police.

“OSSA was not consulted when this measure was crafted and completely understands the uncertainty caused by this measure, however the measure was passed by a majority of Oregonians,” the association wrote in its statement. “Until such time as all or part of the measure is stayed or found unconstitutional by a court, the measure is the law in Oregon.”

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.