The state House on Tuesday passed a firearms bill that would ban untraceable guns, raise the minimum age from 18 to 21 to purchase powerful firearms like semiautomatic weapons and allow local agencies to ban firearms on government property.
House Bill 2005 passed on a 35-24 party-line vote with Republicans opposed. Democratic lawmakers and supporters of House Bill 2005 said the measure would help law enforcement and keep communities safe while respecting the rights of firearm owners.
This issue is one of the most contentious of the session. Other bills would enact a three-day waiting period for new gun purchasers and establish a permit system for Measure 114, a voter-approved gun-control law on hold due to litigation.
“As a responsible gun owner, I know thoughts and prayers can only go so far,” said Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, and a chief sponsor of the bill. “This strikes the balance between community safety and individual liberty – an Oregon approach and solution to a growing challenge.”
Republican lawmakers warned the measure would lead to unintended consequences – such as making gun-free public buildings a target for mass shooters — and predicted the state would face – and lose – expensive litigation if the bill were to become law. They also said the bill is unconstitutional, with many calling out “unconstitutional, no” when they cast their votes.
“The state will get sued, the state will lose and taxpayers will foot the bill,” said Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, on the House floor.
The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would:
- Ban “ghost guns,” which are undetectable, untraceable firearms without a serious serial number of firearms made without metal that metal detectors cannot flag. The first conviction of possession would be a misdemeanor with up to 364 days in jail, a $6,250 fine, or both. Second offenses and beyond would carry up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.
- Increase the minimum age from 18 to 21 for the purchase and possession of certain firearms, including semiautomatic guns. People who are at least 18 would still be able to purchase several types of rifles and shotguns used for hunting, including a single-shot rifle or double-barreled shotgun. There also are exceptions for those 18 and older who are in the military or police officers. Federal law restricts handgun sales to people 21 years and older.
- Allow local agencies to decide whether they want to ban firearms on government-owned buildings and grounds. Under the bill, local agencies would have to post signs of such a policy.
‘Time to take action’
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, also a Democrat, praised the vote.
“This is my fourth session requesting we ban ‘ghost guns’ – and I sincerely hope the fourth time’s a charm,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “All guns must have serial numbers so they can be traced by law enforcement when used in crimes. And all guns must be able to be detected by security systems.”
She said the bill would help law enforcement investigate crimes because untraceable guns without serial numbers cannot be tracked.
The bill’s supporters said raising the minimum age to 21 to purchase certain firearms comes as young people are increasingly involved in mass shootings. Since 2018, six of nine of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. involved people 21 or younger.
“When guns are the number one cause of death of children in the United States and gun violence continues to rise, it is time to take action,” said Rep. Lisa Reynolds, D-Portland, a pediatrician and chief sponsor of the bill. “Every single Oregonian has the right to feel safe in their communities.”
Other chief sponsors of the bill are: Reps. Dacia Grayber, D-Tigard; Jason Kropf, D-Bend; and Sens. James Manning Jr., D-Eugene, and Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene.
Supporters say the bill respects gun owners’ rights by giving government administrators the freedom to decide whether they want to ban firearms on public property and by allowing exceptions to the age rule.
Reynolds said Oregon needs to take action to stem the rising tide in gun violence.
“I refuse to be on the complacent side of this issue,” Reynolds said.
Rep. Tom Andersen, D-Salem and a former Salem city council member, said local government agencies need the ability to pass ordinances.
For example, when a recent rally spilled into a city park, he said, a man was carrying a semiautomatic firearm “when strutting around the park.”
“I’m not sure they were actually there to protect their own safety,” he said, adding that some families left the park because they were concerned about their safety.
‘Tough on crime’
Republican lawmakers said raising the minimum age to 21 for purchasing certain types of firearms fails to take into account that 18 year olds can serve in the military.
“Let’s get tough on crime, not young people who have done no wrong except being 18 to 20,” said Rep. Boomer Wright, R-Coos Bay.
Republican lawmakers repeatedly warned that the bill would not stop criminals but would affect law-abiding citizens.
“Gun control does not deter crime,” said Rep. Lily Morgan, R-Grants Pass and a former parole officer. She said she’s been in homes where a felon was in possession of a gun, despite laws that forbid it.
“This bill will do nothing to curb gun violence or gun crimes,” Morgan said.
She also opposes giving local authorities a choice on firearms ordinances.
“No local official should be able to take away my constitutional rights,” Morgan said.
Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, said the bill would make it harder for young people to defend themselves, including people in low-income and minority communities. She spoke of a young woman she knows who was fearful while living in a crime-ridden neighborhood without a gun to protect herself.
“All this bill does is prohibit those who want to lawfully defend themselves,” Boshart Davis said.
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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.