Oregon Department of Justice asks court to postpone some of firearm measure’s controls

The Oregon Department of Justice is asking a federal judge to postpone until February some parts of the voter-approved firearms measure scheduled to kick in on Thursday in response to concerns from police chiefs and sheriffs who say a permit system won’t be ready that soon.

The justice department filed a request on Sunday with U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut, asking for a delay in the permit requirements because there’s no training system that meets the requirements of the measure.

If the federal judge grants the request, it would mean that other parts of the measure would still go into effect on Thursday, including the application process, restrictions on purchasing large-capacity magazines and the requirement for background checks to be completed – not just requested – before firearms are transferred to a new owner. The requirement for owners to complete a course with a law enforcement-certified instructor would not kick in until February under that scenario.

“Postponing the permit requirement by approximately two months should give Oregon law enforcement time to have a fully functional permitting system in place,” said Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum in a statement. “If Judge Immergut agrees to the postponement, then starting in February anyone who purchases a gun in Oregon will be required to have a permit.”

The request is the latest development in litigation heard in Portland federal court that seeks to block the measure. The judge, in a hearing Friday, indicated she’ll issue a ruling early this week and decide whether to grant plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order that prevents the law from taking effect while the lawsuit proceeds. 

The Oregon Firearms Federation, the main plaintiff in the lawsuit, has sued Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Rosenblum, saying the measure infringes on the constitutional right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. The measure, when implemented, will ban sales of high-capacity ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds and require safety training before purchasing a gun. Several rural sheriffs have weighed in, calling the measure unenforceable with requirements that will eat into limited law enforcement resources to train applicants and process permits.

The justice department said in its request that the new measure is constitutional. But the department also acknowledged the concerns about having an approved firearm safety course with an “in-person demonstration” before a certified instructor in time.

“The state’s proposed postponement would mean that, while the permitting system is brought online, Oregonians who lack a permit will be able to purchase and transfer firearms,” Brian Marshall, a senior assistant attorney general, wrote in the letter. “Meanwhile, the state and local law enforcement would continue to work towards implementing Measure 114’s permit provisions. Moreover, Oregonians would be able to begin the application process. When the court’s order expires, Measure 114’s permit requirement for purchases would go into effect.”

The Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, which represents 125 police agencies, said Monday it is working with the Oregon State Police and Oregon State Sheriff’s Association on a permit system that meets the measure’s requirements. “But there is currently no system in place, and therefore no permits to purchase can be issued,” the association said in a statement.

The group said police resources would have to be diverted from other duties to create a system and that any revenue generated from the $65 permit fees wouldn’t cover that expense.

“We are not aware of any current training program that meets the requirements of Measure 114,” the group said. “OACP believes that every person wishing to obtain a permit, including our law enforcement officers, will first have to complete training that does not yet exist.”

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Ben Botkin - Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.