SALEM — Supporters of expanded gun sale background checks are renewing their push for legislation in the Oregon capitol this week.
The Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety and the national group Americans for Responsible Solutions, founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, are bringing medical professionals to the capitol Tuesday to lobby for background checks before Internet and other person-to-person gun sales.
Oregonians already must pass background checks in order to purchase firearms at licensed dealers and gun shows. It is illegal for people in the state to have firearms if they are convicted felons, or were civilly committed to a psychiatric treatment facility or prohibited by a court from having firearms due to mental illness.
Although private individuals can request a state background check before transferring a gun to another person, such checks are not required.
“That loophole does allow people to buy guns, no questions asked, without a background check,” said Mark Prentice, press secretary for Americans for Responsible Solutions.
Nine other states and the District of Columbia already require people to pass background checks before purchasing guns online or directly from another person, although two of the states — Maryland and Pennsylvania — only extended that requirement to handgun sales.
Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, is drafting legislation that could be introduced by the end of this month to expand the requirement for background checks to Internet and person-to-person sales.
After the November election, Democrats in the Legislature said the outlook to expand background checks was better in 2015 than it had been in years because of their expanded majorities in both chambers and voters’ approval of a similar expansion in Washington. Democrats attempted unsuccessfully to pass a handful of gun-related bills in 2013, after shootings in December of 2012 at Clackamas Town Center and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. In 2014, they tried again to pass a bill to expand background checks to include private gun transfers but the bill ran into opposition from Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose and Senate Republicans and ultimately died in committee.
At this point in the session, lawmakers have fewer options to introduce new legislation but Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said the proposal to expand background checks will be introduced as a priority bill.
“I’m optimistic about its chances,” Burdick said. Lawmakers do face some deadlines, including that they must post notice of a work session on a bill by April 10.
Prozanski said he is drafting legislation based on the 2014 bill to expand background checks, with some amendments to provide even broader exemptions when guns are transferred among family members. He said background checks are effective at keeping guns out of the hands of people who should not have them, but state law currently contains a major loophole.
“So in the parking lot of a gun show, on the Internet, in your backyard, everywhere, those (sales), are currently not required to have a background check,” Prozanski said.
Prozanski is a former deputy district attorney who also experienced the impact of gun violence in the early 1970s, when his older sister was murdered by her boyfriend. The family lived in Texas, and Prozanski was in high school at the time. His sister was trying to leave her boyfriend, who was a drug dealer.
“The guy that killed her had a gun, of course, and he was a felon,” Prozanski said.
Prozanski said he is a gun owner, but considers background checks for all non-family transfers to be “a reasonable step.”
In addition to the background check expansion, Prozanski’s bill will likely have two other components. One would broaden the existing provision on mental illness, to begin requiring judges to decide whether people mandated to receive outpatient mental health treatment should be allowed to keep their weapons.
“What we’re going to do is just have the court make a determination when someone is ordered into outpatient treatment for mental health, whether they should have access to firearms during their mental health crisis,” Prozanski said.
The bill would also codify former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s policy that required the Oregon State Police to notify local law enforcement when someone who cannot legally purchase a gun, such as a felon, attempts to do so. Kitzhaber adopted the policy after Senate Republican Leader Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, sent a letter to the governor pointing out OSP has authority to follow up on failed background checks. A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans said they would wait to comment until more specific information on the planned legislation is available.
It’s unclear whether gun control supporters have enough support to push through other priorities this session, such as yet-to-be-introduced legislation that would make it a crime for an adult to leave a firearm in a location where a child can access it.
Jake Weigler, a spokesman for the Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety, said 27 other states and the District of Columbia have laws under which “basically you are criminally negligent if you leave your weapon unlocked and your child gets access to it.”
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group