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State asks Oregon Supreme Court to dissolve preliminary injunction blocking gun laws

Image of Oregon Supreme Court building
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Oregon Supreme Court in Salem, Ore., May 19, 2021.

If granted, the petition would allow the voter-approved magazine ban and completed background check requirement to go into immediate effect.

The Oregon Department of Justice filed a petition Friday asking the Oregon Supreme Court to dissolve a preliminary injunction that is keeping Oregon’s new gun laws from going into effect.

Measure 114 was passed by voters on a tight margin and has been stuck in legal limbo ever since. Four cases were filed in federal court. And another was filed in Harney County Circuit Court. The judge in Harney County, after a series of hearings, blocked the entire law from going into effect earlier this month.

If the state’s petition to dissolve the judge’s order is granted, it would mean that the ban on magazines that hold 10 or more rounds of ammunition would go into effect immediately, as would the requirement for a completed background check.

“We did this largely because we are concerned that the orders are well, first of all wrong,” said Michael Kron, special counsel to the Office of the Attorney General of Oregon. “But second of all, if the Supreme Court does not intervene, these are orders that are likely to stay in place for months, potentially a year or more as this matter is litigated, and we do not feel that is appropriate.”

The new laws would require a permit for anyone wishing to purchase a firearm. The laws would also close a loophole allowing guns to be transferred to people with incomplete background checks. And they would put a ban on the manufacture, purchase and sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Lawyers for the state argue in Friday’s court filing that such regulations will prevent future mass shootings in Oregon.

“To date, Oregon has been spared a shooting with ten or more deaths,” the petition reads. “But the state is no stranger to mass killings: Thurston High School; Clackamas Town Center; Umpqua Community College. After each, Oregonians faced the community-shattering impact of multiple deaths at the hands of a single shooter in a public square.”

By blocking Measure 114, the state argues in its petition that the Harney County Circuit Court “disregarded the will of the people.”

“We believe that the people of the state of Oregon are well within their power to enact reasonable restrictions on firearms and that Measure 114′s provisions are the types of laws that are clearly allowable under the state constitution and state court interpretations of our constitution,” Kron said.

Lawyers for the two Harney County residents and the national gun rights group that filed the case have argued that the new laws violated their right under the Oregon Constitution to bear arms. They argued that the magazine size restrictions effectively stop the purchase of most firearms and that the writers of the state Constitution intended for residents to be able to own any available firearm.

District Court Judge Robert Raschio agreed that this argument was strong enough to grant a preliminary injunction against the new law. Such an injunction is not the final word on the law.

If the state’s petition to dissolve the judge’s order is granted, that would not be the final word either. It would mean that the magazine ban would go into effect immediately, as would the requirement for a completed background check.

But the permit requirement would remain blocked under a federal order until at least March while the state works to create a new permitting system.

Regardless of how the state supreme court rules on the department of justice petition, the legal battle is not over.

“I would think in the federal courts in particular there’s a potentially prolonged fight ahead,” Kron said.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.