PORTLAND — An Oregon judge on Tuesday declined to lift his order that temporarily freezes part of a new, voter-approved gun safety measure requiring a completed criminal background check before a gun can be sold or transferred.
Harney County Judge Robert S. Raschio previously dealt a blow to gun control advocates when he put all other elements of the tough new law on hold, including a permit-to-purchase provision and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
On Dec. 23, he heard oral arguments from Oregon on a motion to allow the law’s background check provision to take effect even while the constitutionality of the Measure 114’s other elements were decided by the courts. Under federal law, firearms dealers can sell guns without a completed background check if the check takes longer than three business days — a practice Oregon’s new law would end.
The so-called “Charleston loophole” allowed a man in Charleston, South Carolina, to buy a gun in 2015 and kill nine Black parishioners at a church.
Raschio last month paused all parts of the Oregon gun control measure. He issued a preliminary injunction against its restrictions on the sale, manufacture and use of large-capacity magazines and a temporary restraining order on the requirement that a permit be obtained to buy a gun.
The state has said it will be ready to support a permit program in March.
In his opinion issued Tuesday, Raschio said he would reconsider severing the background check provision of the law from the rest of the measure only if the permit-to-purchase element was ultimately found to be unconstitutional. He stressed that he has not made a final determination on the constitutionality of any of Measure 114’s provisions.
The lawsuit in Harney County, filed by Gun Owners of America Inc., the Gun Owners Foundation and several individual gun owners, sought to have the entire law placed on hold while its constitutionality is decided. The state lawsuit specifically makes the claims under the Oregon Constitution, not the U.S. Constitution.
Burns, the town where the lawsuit was filed, is more than 280 miles (450 kilometers) southeast of Portland in a rural and sparsely populated corner of the state.
Measure 114 requires a permit, criminal background check, fingerprinting and hands-on training course for new firearms buyers. It also bans the sale, transfer or import of gun magazines over 10 rounds unless they are owned by law enforcement or a military member or were owned before the measure’s passage. Those who already own high-capacity magazines can only possess them in their homes or use them at a firing range, in shooting competitions or for hunting as allowed by state law after the measure takes effect.
Gun rights groups, local sheriffs and gun store owners have filed at least four lawsuits, almost all in federal court, saying the law violates Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms. The Harney County lawsuit is the only one filed in state court, gun rights advocates said.
A federal judge in Portland hearing a different challenge to the law under the U.S. Constitution on Dec. 6 delivered an initial victory to proponents of the sweeping gun-control measure that passed in the Nov. 8 midterms.
In that ruling, U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut allowed the ban on the sale and transfer of new high-capacity magazines to take effect. She also granted a 30-day delay before the law’s permit-to-purchase mandate takes effect, but did not quash it entirely as gun rights advocates had wanted.
Raschio’s subsequent ruling the same day threw the law into limbo: Because that lawsuit challenged Measure 114 under the Oregon Constitution, it held precedence in the state, legal experts said.
The law’s fate is being carefully watched by both gun rights advocates and those who want stricter limits on gun ownership. It would be one of the first to take effect since the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down a New York law that placed limits on carrying guns outside the home.