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Oregon lawmakers propose measures to stem gun violence, ‘ghost guns’

Oregon lawmakers will consider a range of firearm proposals this session aimed at curbing gun violence.
Connor Radnovich
Oregon Capital Chronicle
Oregon lawmakers will consider a range of firearm proposals this session aimed at curbing gun violence.

Oregon lawmakers are pursuing a package of firearm bills they say is needed to stem gun violence and give law enforcement the necessary tools to address the issue of untraceable 'ghost guns.'

The Democratic lawmakers have the support of House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, who asked the group to work on the issue, and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who is concerned about the rise of “ghost guns,” which are untraceable.

“We’ve been working on these policies for a while to really craft sensible, common sense, Oregon solutions that are based on Oregonian values,” said Rep. Dacia Grayber, D-Tigard and one of the bill sponsors. “We know that people are hunters; we know that people build guns.”

In 2020, 593 Oregonians died from homicide or suicide by firearms, state data shows. Of those, 110 cases involved homicide, up from 78 in 2019. The proposals follow the narrow passage by voters in November of Measure 114, which would require gun purchasers to go through safety training before obtaining a permit, ban the sale of magazines with more than 10 bullets and close a loophole that allows people to buy firearms without a background check. The law remains stalled in a Harney County court and is set for a trial in September.

The three new bills are:

  • House Bill 2005 would punish the manufacturing, sales and possession of undetectable firearms intended to skirt security screenings and untraceable firearms  that lack a serial number. 
  • House Bill 2006 would increase from 18 to 21 the legal age to purchase or possess a firearm. The proposal would have exceptions for firearms used for hunting and for people younger than 21 who are in the military or police officers.
  • House Bill 2007 would allow cities and counties to restrict people licensed to carry a concealed handgun from possessing a firearm on the agency’s buildings or grounds.

All three bills are scheduled for informational hearings and public discussion next Wednesday, and House Bill 2005 is also scheduled for a vote on March 28.

No Republicans have signed onto the bills as sponsors. House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, said lawmakers in her party will scrutinize the legislation as it moves forward.

“Our caucus’ purview as it relates to firearms is as follows: House Republicans will always fight for the constitutionally protected rights of law abiding gun owners in Oregon,” Breese-Iverson said in a statement. “As we continue to wade through this legislation, our position will remain that law abiding gun owners should not be punished for the actions of criminals.”

The Capital Chronicle on Thursday interviewed four lawmakers backing the legislation and Rosenblum. Here’s what they had to say about each bill:

‘Ghost guns’

There are two types of firearms that House Bill 2005 would address: undetectable firearms and untraceable firearms that lack a serial number.

The undetectable firearms are designed to evade security screenings by a metal detector or X-ray machine and can be manufactured on a three-dimensional printer without metal components.

Advancements in printer technology have made the guns more advanced – and easier to slip through security.

“These guns are purely plastic; they have literally no metal and they literally cannot be detected,” Rosenblum told the Capital Chronicle.

The proposal would define an undetectable firearm as one constructed or produced in a way that it is made entirely out of nonmetal substances, including through a three-dimensional printing process.

People convicted of felony manufacturing, importing or selling an undetectable firearm would face up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.

People convicted of possession of an undetectable firearm would face a misdemeanor on the first offense, which carries up to 364 days in jail, a $6,250 fine, or both. Second offenses and beyond would carry up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both.

Rosenblum also is concerned about the proliferation of untraceable firearms that lack a serial number.

“If they are unserialized, then law enforcement simply cannot trace these crime guns and very frequently, unfortunately, these guns are more and more being used to commit crimes,” Rosenblum said.

For those who possess an untraceable firearm, the first offense would be a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $1,000. The second offense would also be a misdemeanor, but carry up to 364 days in jail, a $6,250 fine or both. Third and further convictions would be a felony with up to 10 years of prison, a $250,000 fine or both.

Rosenblum said the goal is to encourage people with unserialized firearms to get them serialized.

The bill also has exceptions such as for antique firearms and firearms manufactured prior to Oct. 22, 1968, when federal law began requiring serial numbers.

The lawmakers said the experiences have shaped their perspective.

Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend, chair of the House Judiciary Committee and a former prosecutor, said: “I’ve had conversations throughout my whole career about the prevention of violence and in the aftermath of gun violence.”

The issue was renewed again by the Safeway shooting in Bend last August, Kropf said. Three people in the grocery store shooting died, including the gunman.

“Unfortunately, we probably all have stories where a tragedy has prompted folks to connect with us and share their experience,” Kropf said.

Rep. Lisa Reynolds, D-Portland and a pediatrician, first got involved in politics as an advocate for gun violence prevention. The goal is to prevent people from falling into situations where they feel like gun violence is the only option for them, Reynolds said.

Increasing the age for firearms

The proposal to increase the age from 18 to 21 for the purchase and possession of a firearm has exceptions.

People who are at least 18 but not yet 21 would still be able to purchase several types of rifles and shotguns used for hunting, including a single-shot rifle or double-barreled shotgun. The restriction also would not apply to 18-year-olds and above who are in the military or police officers, whether full-time or in a reserve program.

Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth and a gun owner, said the bill strikes the right balance between respecting the heritage of Oregon hunters and military service and keeping lethal, easily reloadable firearms designed to kill people out of the hands of young people.

“The problem is that there’s some young people who aren’t capable of having a firearm and when they do, they’re not getting the behavioral health or mental health support they need and they use that instrument to do things that they shouldn’t do,” said Evans. “We basically said, ‘Across the board, 21 is the age to drink in Oregon. Twenty-one is the age in Oregon to buy any type of firearm you want. But if you’re younger than 21, we’re going to restrict it to hunting weapons.’”

Evans said proposals are likely to have support among responsible gun owners. “The folks who grew up with guns and gun culture will recognize we’re not trying to do a wholesale ban,” Evans said. “And even though there’s a few loud voices that will say that, most gun owners that are responsible will understand that this is a smart move.”

Under the bill, possession of a firearm by a person under 21 or the transfer of a firearm to a person under 21 would be a misdemeanor and subject to up to 364 days in jail, a $6,250 fine, or both.

Federal law already bans the sales of handguns to people under 21.

Cities, counties would get more control

Under existing Oregon law, local government agencies like cities and counties can pass ordinances that restrict people from openly carrying firearms in public buildings and grounds. But Oregonians are exempt from those ordinances if they have a conceal carry permit.

The proposal would close that exemption, meaning that local agencies could decide if they want to ban firearms entirely on the agency’s public property – or in designated public areas. Under the bill, local agencies would have to post signs at building entrances and on grounds if they were to enact such a policy.

The bill’s supporters stressed the legislation doesn’t require local agencies to pass any ordinances, a flexibility that allows officials to tailor their responses based on local input. It’s not a directive, just a tool for local leaders, Evans said.

“This literally says, ‘Look, you now have the responsibility, local leaders,’” Evans said. “We’re willing to share that responsibility with you if you want to do this. We think it’s a smart thing to do, but you can do it your tailored way. And in Oregon, generally that seems to work especially with smaller communities.”

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Ben Botkin has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.