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Oregon legislators to consider 3 new laws aimed at curbing gun deaths

An unserialized hand gun, called a ghost gun, confiscated by U.S. Marshals during an arrest on June 7, 2022 in Portland, Oregon.
Jonathan Levinson
An unserialized hand gun, called a ghost gun, confiscated by U.S. Marshals during an arrest on June 7, 2022 in Portland, Oregon.

Legislators in Oregon are making a fourth attempt to ban “ghost guns,” untraceable and undetectable firearms that are assembled at home. They have proliferated in recent years. The legislation is one of three bills put forward this session to address gun violence in the state.

House Bill 2005 would ban two types of ghost guns, 3-D printed firearms made of non-metal material and handgun kits that don’t meet the legal definition of a firearm and require minimal assembly. Neither type has a serial number and are therefore untraceable by law enforcement. The 3-D printed type pose a unique security concern because they are also undetectable by metal detectors and most X-Ray machines.

“They’re specifically designed ... to avoid all the measures that we have in Oregon to encourage responsible gun ownership,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in a press conference Tuesday. “So they appeal to people who can’t pass a background check, people who want to stockpile guns without the government knowing about it, and of course, to traffickers.”

Last May, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the number of privately made firearms the agency traced had increased by 1,000% between 2016 and 2021. Rosenblum said there isn’t good data on ghost guns in Oregon but noted that in California, an estimated 50% of shootings are done with untraceable firearms.

The Biden Administration has tried to use executive action to regulate privately made firearms but, without Congressional action, has been largely unsuccessful. Before the new rules took effect late last year, the kits shipped with everything needed to complete the firearm at home. Now, companies are simply selling the parts separately.

“Having unserialized firearms is just a dumb idea,” Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, said. “People are recognizing that prayers and thoughts are helpful, but clear action is necessary to try to limit what’s going on in our country and we can do it in a way that’s still respectful of individual liberty.”

Legislators are also considering bills that would allow cities and counties to prohibit firearms in government buildings and increase the minimum age to own a firearm to 21. People over 18 would still be able to buy certain kinds of rifles and shotguns commonly used for hunting. There is also an exception for military and law enforcement. Federal law bans the sale of handguns to people under 21.

House Bill 2007 builds on a law passed in 2021 allowing local school districts to ban firearms on campus. That law also banned firearms in the State Capitol and the Portland International Airport terminal. Currently, local governments are prohibited from limiting firearms in their buildings.

Rosenblum said about 32 school boards have banned firearms since the law took effect, encompassing approximately 200,000 students.

By Tuesday afternoon, over 200 people had submitted written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee ahead of public hearings Wednesday morning. Supporters said the common sense regulations were important to ensuring safe, thriving communities. Opponents decried the bills as poorly written and yet one more attempt by Democrats to infringe on people’s liberties. One urged lawmakers to “fix Portland” instead.

Evans’ constituents aren’t necessarily eager for more gun laws. Some people are grumpy, he said, and want young people and gun owners to be more responsible. But, he said, people aren’t self-governing, so voters recognize the need for intervention.

“Because we can’t do everything, that doesn’t mean we can’t do some things,” Evans said. “And the something we’re going to do is bring rationality to gun ownership.”

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

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