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Oregon judge issues injunction blocking high-capacity magazine ban

In this file photo, guns for sale are seen at a Portland gun show.
Dave Blanchard
In this file photo, guns for sale are seen at a Portland gun show.

An Oregon circuit court judge has issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state’s voter-passed restrictions on firearm sales and magazine capacities from taking effect.

Harney County Circuit Court Judge Robert S. Raschio ruled Thursday that restrictions in Ballot Measure 114 prohibiting the purchase and carry of magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition “unduly frustrate the right to bear arms” under Oregon’s Constitution.

“Based upon the preliminary evidence, the result of BM 114 would be a near absolute prohibition on handguns and many other firearms with their magazines,” Raschio wrote, unconvinced by the state’s expert witnesses who testified the opposite was true.

Measure 114, which passed with just 50.7% of the vote in November, would require gun buyers to take a course and demonstrate an ability to load, fire and safely store a firearm to obtain a permit to purchase. The measure would also ban high-capacity magazines and close a loophole requiring a completed background check before a firearm sale or transfer can go forward.

In court Tuesday, Raschio extended a temporary restraining order blocking the permit requirement from taking effect while the state hashed out how the application system would work.

“I am convinced that there’s irreparable harm to the constitutional right to bear arms under Article 1 Section 27 if I do not,” Raschio said in court Tuesday.

Experts for both the plaintiffs — Harney County residents Joseph Arnold and Cliff Asmussen, joined by the hardline gun rights group Gun Owners of America — and the state, which is defending the law, testified in court Tuesday.

Testifying for the plaintiffs, John Isaac Botkin, a technical and education officer at Tennessee-based T.Rex Arms, said firearms holding more than 10 rounds were common in the 18th and 19th centuries.

University of California, Berkeley history professor Brian DeLay said that while the weapons existed, they were experimental and not widely available.

The state also argued that high capacity magazines are not an instrumental component of a firearm, and that there are plenty of alternatives to high-capacity magazines frequently used in Oregon.

“The evidence shows the distinction the defendants are trying to draw between firearms and magazines is a fiction,” Raschio wrote in his opinion. “Firearms do not function without magazines. An analogy would be making a distinction between a car and its engine.”

A key sticking point in the Oregon magazine restriction, as written in Measure 114, is the ban on magazines “that can be readily restored, changed, or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition.” Plaintiffs argued that nearly every commercially available magazine can be altered to accept more than 10 rounds.

In separate federal lawsuits, U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut put the permit-to-purchase requirement on hold for 30 days to allow the state to stand up the infrastructure needed to process and issue permit applications.

The Oregon Firearms Federation, plaintiffs in one of the federal cases, sent an email after Raschio’s ruling, praising it as good news.

“The battle continues both in this statewide case that Gun Owners of America has brought and the four other cases that are in Federal Court,” the statement said.

Raschio said he will hold a hearing within 10 days of being notified the permit-to-purchase system is ready to determine if it is constitutional. He scheduled a hearing for Dec. 23 on the background check provisions in Measure 114.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jonathan Levinson is a multimedia reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He’s the Audion Fellow covering Guns & America.