Oregon’s voter-approved gun law that would require permits and a safety course violates the state constitution, a Harney County Circuit Court judge ruled on Tuesday.
The ruling is a setback for gun safety advocates who backed Measure 114 in response to gun violence and mass shootings and convinced Oregon voters to pass it in 2022. Gun rights groups challenged the state law in federal court as well as Harney County Circuit Court.
The law has not gone into effect with the litigation pending. The ruling effectively means Measure 114 will not become a reality, unless Judge Robert Raschio’s decision is overturned in a higher court.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum promised to appeal the case.
“The Harney County judge’s ruling is wrong,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “Worse, it needlessly puts Oregonians’ lives at risk. The state will file an appeal and we believe we will prevail.”
The Gun Owners Foundation and Gun Owners of America, Inc., both based in Virginia, were plaintiffs in the original complaint filed in Harney County, but they voluntarily dropped out at the end of May. Harney County residents Joseph Arnold and Cliff Asmussen are plaintiffs in the case, giving it standing to be filed in the conservative eastern Oregon county.
The judge, Raschio, decided the case based upon the law’s application to the state constitution, not the U.S. Constitution and Second Amendment rights.
During a six-day trial in September, Raschio heard from experts about firearms and Oregon history, including the lives of Oregonians in 1857 when the state constitution was adopted with the provision that people shall have the right to bear arms for their defense. Raschio referenced Oregon’s frontier history to justify his ruling.
“The court finds the (voters) of 1857 did not seek to restrain access to the best firearms with the highest functionality possible they could procure,” the judge wrote in the 44-page ruling, which notes the state constitution was adopted in an era when pioneers “engaged in forceable removal of the Indigenous tribes of Oregon” and wanted the best weapons possible.
The law also would ban large-capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds which can lead to widespread carnage in a mass shooting.
The judge found the ban on large-capacity magazines “does not enhance public safety” enough to justify the infringement of the right to bear arms.
In an alert to its members, the Oregon Firearms Federation praised the ruling and the judge, saying Raschio “took a brave stand in the face of a full frontal assault on gun rights by Oregon’s establishment leftists.”
But the gun rights organization warned that more legal battles lie ahead.
Jess Marks, executive director of the Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety, expects that as well.
“Every day that Measure 114 is held up in court, Oregon lives are put at risk,” Marks said in a statement. “We expect that the state of Oregon will appeal this misguided ruling and that a higher court will see fit to allow this voter-approved law to go into effect. Lives depend on it.”
Every year, hundreds Oregonians die from gun violence, suicides or accidental shootings. In 2022, 803 Oregonians visited hospital emergency rooms with firearm-related injuries, according to Oregon Health Authority data. In 2021, 670 people in Oregon died from firearms, according to federal data.
In the federal lawsuit, the U.S. District Court ruled that Measure 114 is constitutional, upholding the law. Gun rights organizations have appealed the federal ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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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.