Hard to say if a gun measure on Oregon's fall ballot would have prevented Bend shooting
Measure 114 calls for a completed background check, completion of a gun safety course and a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Would it have prevented last weekend's tragedy at a supermarket in Bend?
The shooting at a Bend grocery store this weekend is just the latest in a chain of random murders in public places driven by angry, disaffected men. It’s at least the second in Oregon just in 2022. And this November, Oregon voters will have a chance to tighten gun laws in a way that supporters hope will prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Whether the proposals outlined in Measure 114 would have actually prevented the shooter from carrying out his plan is impossible to determine. Even had the law been in place and blocked him from legally acquiring his arsenal in Oregon, there would have been other ways to obtain the weapons the 20-year-old gunman used to kill two people and himself on Sunday, including crossing state lines. We also don’t yet know all of the details surrounding the shooter’s gun purchases.
That said, Measure 114 would put additional hurdles between someone seeking to buy a gun and actually purchasing one.
Had the proposed new law been in place, the Bend shooter still would have been able to legally purchase the three guns he owned. He would not have been able to buy the high-capacity magazines found on his body. And his efforts to buy weapons in the weeks before he killed two people would have included more steps that may have slowed down or even changed his plan.
Here’s what we know about how the regulations proposed in Measure 114 might have worked out in this case.
No specific type of gun would be made illegal under the proposed new law.
The shooter in Bend arrived on the scene with two guns. One was a shotgun, according to local police, and the other was an AR-15. Neither gun would be outlawed in Oregon by Measure 114, were it to pass.
The third weapon recovered by police was a sawed-off shotgun. It is already illegal under Oregonlaw to own a short-barreled shotgun, but it is not illegal to purchase a long-barrel gun of the type the shooter said he modified. Nor would it become illegal if Oregon’s fall ballot measure became law.
Kevin Starrett, an opponent of Measure 114, said the proposed regulations would effectively ban some sporting shotguns, meant for skeet and trap shooting, with built-in large magazines. Authors of the measure insist it does not. They say it simply requires owners of such weapons to modify them to hold fewer rounds.
The proposed law would ban the production, sale, purchase or use of any magazine holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
The Bend Safeway shooter was found with four magazines for his AR-15, holding 30 rounds of ammunition each, according to a statement by the Bend Police Department. Police also reported recovering 100 shell casings from the apartment complex behind the shopping center where the shooter lived, the shopping center itself and the inside of the grocery store.
To buy that amount of ammunition legally, under Measure 114, the shooter would have needed at least 10 magazines to fire the same number of bullets, plus another nine to have the same amount on him when he died. The goal of the magazine clause is to make it harder for people to carry out mass shootings by making it more difficult to easily carry so much ammunition, and to fire bullets so quickly. The 100 shell casings found at the scene in Bend are thought to have all been fired within about five minutes.
The background check
The new law would require anyone wanting to buy a gun in Oregon to first apply for a permit. One requirement to get that permit would be to undergo a background check conducted by the Oregon State Police.
The background check required to obtain a permit to purchase a gun would be in addition to the background check already required for actually purchasing a gun.
In addition, the local law enforcement official granting the permit could consider a broader range of information, including “threats of unlawful violence.” The current checks are limited to criminal history, mental health conditions resulting in institutionalization and immigration status.
The Bend shooter left a detailed blog outlining his violent plans, but did not have a prior criminal history and so far has not been found to fit any of Oregon’s other prohibited purchaser categories. The proposed new system does not seem to require a scan of a potential buyer’s online presence, though if one were conducted, the information gathered could be considered. Backers of the measure say some details regarding how the new rules would be imposed will have to be finalized if the measure passes. A spokesperson for the Oregon State Police said the measure “is still being assessed” and did not respond to a request for additional comment about how the agency might run the additional background check per purchaser that would be required if Measure 114 passed.
One key proposed change that may have affected the Bend shooter’s ability to purchase his guns is that every criminal background check under the new law must be completed. Currently, if a check has not been completed within three business days, the potential purchaser can get their gun anyway. This is known in the gun safety community as the “Charleston loophole” because it allowed a man who might have been prohibited from purchasing a gun in South Carolina to obtain a weapon and kill nine people in a Charleston church.
The Bend shooter’s blog posts claim that he had to wait several days to buy one of his shotguns. It’s unclear what caused the wait, but it’s possible his background check hit a snag.
When the automated scan required under current state law fails to find a needed record or comes across some other discrepancy, it is marked “pending.” This happened in about 3% of cases in Oregon in 2021, according to the Oregon State Police annual firearms instant check system report. Pending cases are shuffled to a real person who sorts through the records and aims to close the background request.
It’s possible that the shooter tried to buy a gun, had his background check marked pending, and then bought the gun three days later without the check completing. Even if this happened, it doesn’t mean the check wouldn’t ultimately have come up clean. The Oregon State Police are mandated to complete every check eventually.
But it’s also possible a completed check would have found something that prohibited the 20-year-old from buying a gun or at least caused a further delay. While 49% of background checks in 2021 were completed within 10 days, nearly a quarter (21%) took more than 120 days, according to the State Police report.
The gun safety course
The second thing required to obtain a permit to purchase a firearm under Measure 114 is a completed safety course. Much of the course could be completed online, but there is a section that must be completed in person, at a firing range. Among other requirements, the course covers safe gun storage, proper gun holding technique to prevent accidental injuries or death and a section on the impact of suicide and homicide on victims’ friends and families.
Whether taking this course would have changed anything for the young man who arrived at a Bend grocery store prepared to kill “maybe 40+” people, as he wrote in his blog, is the hardest thing to assess.
He posted videos of himself learning to use the guns he purchased and wrote often online about a desire to hurt others.
But the gunman just as frequently wrote about a desire to end his own life. The vast majority, 82% in 2019 and 77% in 2020, of gun deaths in Oregon every year are suicides, according to the Oregon Health Authority. In Oregon, men living in rural counties have the highest rates of death by suicide. Research has repeatedly shown that suicide rates are lower in states with stricter gun laws.
It’s possible that the information provided on the impact of suicide and homicide in a gun safety course might have been enough to prompt the 20-year-old Bend gunman to ask for help rather than stay mired in hurt and hate. It is also possible that an instructor or fellow student in a mandatory gun safety course might have noticed something off about him and called it in.
It’s possible nothing included in Measure 114 would have helped this suicidal man bent on violence. He may have taken the safety course with no one sounding an alarm and let the information about suicide prevention wash over him without changing course. He may have persisted in his plans even if they took several more months to come together. He may have shot just as many people in just as random an act of violence.
Or, he may not.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 988. Or text HELLO to 741741. The service is free.
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