Oregon judge rules voter-approved gun safety Measure 114 violates state constitution

A Harney County Circuit Court judge ruled Tuesday that Oregon’s new gun laws, approved by voters last year under Measure 114, violate the state’s constitution. State.

In this screenshot from a video feed, Harney County Circuit Court Judge Robert S. Raschio presides over arguments regarding Measure 114 during a hearing in Burns, Oregon, on December 13, 2022.

Video Screenshot / Harney County Circuit Court

The provisions, adopted in November 2022, had been blocked by Judge Robert Raschio since last December, pending a full trial. With his new ruling, issued during a six-day trial held in September, those laws will no longer be able to take effect unless a higher state court overturns his decision.

“The citizens of Oregon have a right to defend themselves against an imminent threat of harm, which is unduly burdened by Ballot Measure 114,” Raschio wrote, saying the restrictions harm public safety.

Related: Video: Oregon Gun Control Measure 114 Explained

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum pushed back Tuesday afternoon.

“The Harney County judge’s decision is wrong,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “Even worse, it unnecessarily endangers the lives of Oregonians. The state will appeal and we believe we will prevail.

Measure 114, which passed by a narrow margin, would require anyone wishing to purchase a gun to take a safety course and pass a test to receive a license to make the purchase. It also requires a background check for purchases and bans magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

Raschio declared all of these provisions unconstitutional.

Oregon’s new laws were challenged almost immediately after their passage in federal and state courts. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut ruled that the law was legal under the U.S. Constitution. This decision was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Because the Oregon Constitution only protects firearms that were in common use at the time the state Constitution was adopted in 1859, or that are clearly a modern equivalent, much of the lawsuit of the state focused on the history of firearms in Oregon during this era.

Lawyers for the two men suing the state to block Measure 114 called witnesses who testified about some of the advanced firearms people had access to in the mid-19th century.

Ashley Hlebinsky, former curator of the Cody Firearms Museum in Wyoming, testified that there were many antique firearms capable of firing multiple rounds without needing to be reloaded, and that several makes and models held more than 10 rounds or used charger-type power devices. But many of these guns, she later said, were very rare in the United States at the time.

Raschio wrote in his ruling that he found her testimony compelling — that multi-shot firearms had been tested for centuries and that it was something gun manufacturers were seeking in the mid-1800s In contrast, Immergut wrote that Hlebinsky was not an expert and was not a reliable witness.

“MS. Hlebinsky lacks experience and training as a historian,” U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut wrote in her July decision finding Measure 114 federally constitutional. “More troubling to this Court, Ms. Hlebinsky has both professional and personal ties to pro-gun groups and the gun industry, which the Court finds limits his ability to serve as a neutral expert in this case.”

Oregon Department of Justice lawyers defending the new laws called two professors steeped in the history of guns in late 18th and 19th century America. They said that although the colonies – and later the United States – were the best-armed society in the world, repeating firearms and firearms capable of holding multiple rounds were “extremely rare” and “extremely rare”.

Bryan DeLay, a history professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied the arms trade during the American Revolutionary War era, said he found it hard to imagine that the authors of the Oregon’s constitution could have anticipated the future of gun technology.

“Semi-automatic technology and automatic technology are such profound departures in the history of firearms technology that I find it hard to believe that anyone – even someone very well informed – could have predicted the late 1850s the emergence of smokeless powder, detachable cartridges, automatic reloading,” he said. “It seems hard to me to imagine.”

Raschio wrote that Oregon’s constitutional delegates were certainly aware of technological advances in firearms.

Two sheriffs and the superintendent of the Oregon State Police testified for the plaintiffs on the importance of high-capacity magazines over the objection of state attorneys who argued their testimony was not relevant because Measure 114 exempted law enforcement from the magazine ban.

Union County Sheriff Cody Bowen and Harney County Sheriff Dan Jenkins both said their jurisdictions cover large geographic areas where response times can be long. They also said their deputies often relied on armed civilians to cover them during incidents and that residents and deputies used their firearms to protect themselves, their families and their livestock from predators, including bears, wolves and coyotes.

In his ruling, Raschio said Bowen “definitively demonstrated that citizens cannot rely on law enforcement to respond quickly to their needs if they are subjected to a break-in or threat of deadly physical harm.”

“Victims can go without response from law enforcement for hours,” he wrote. “The need of a citizen to protect themselves, their loved ones and their property is immediate because no one else (who) will be there to do it for them.”

During the trial, Raschio had tense exchanges with Tufts University epidemiologist Dr. Michael Siegel, who has studied the effectiveness of different gun laws in the county.

Siegel testified that since 2001, gun homicides in Oregon have increased 310 percent and that when high-capacity magazines are used in mass shootings, victims more than double.

Raschio said the total number of people killed in mass shootings is “incredibly low compared to the media’s sensationalist coverage of events.”

He said Siegel’s testimony did not appear to be scientific under Oregon’s evidence laws and said that unless Siegel’s research could decisively demonstrate that bans on high-capacity magazines would result in fewer gun deaths, he would not take that into account when making his decision.

“Essentially, the defendants wanted to come to court, say this person is an expert, and have the expert assert his legal conclusions as scientific proof without demonstrating to the court the scientific validation of the process or how the process was used. to reach this conclusion,” Raschio wrote in his decision.

Measure 114 prohibited magazines holding more than 10 rounds and any magazine that can be “easily” modified to hold additional rounds. Throughout the trial, attorneys argued over what “easily” meant. The plaintiffs brought in experts who showed they could easily modify a 10-round magazine using a screwdriver, belt sander or epoxy. State prosecutors called witnesses who also testified that the vast majority of 10-round magazines available on the market require additional tools to increase their capacity.

Special Assistant Attorney General Harry Wilson explained in his closing argument that under Measure 114’s magazine ban, a person must be able to quickly manufacture a magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds at the time where she is accused of breaking the law.

“It is not enough that a person can get an extension in a store in the future,” he explained. “A person must actually have an extension cord in their personal possession.”

This is an argument that Immergut bought.

“A magazine with a ten-round capacity is not easily convertible until the individual removes the base plate from the magazine – without removing the base plate, the magazine cannot be extended,” a writes Immergut. “A law is not void for vagueness simply because an individual might take affirmative action to be on the verge of breaking the law. »

Raschio was not swayed by the nearly identical testimony, writing that gun components, including the magazine, are protected by the state constitution.

“Without a magazine, the other components of a firearm are not a firearm,” he wrote. “The constitutional delegates and voters of 1857 would be impressed by the advances in current firearms technology, but they would understand our current stock of firearms as direct descendants of those they owned, including technologies to multiple and repeated blows.”

His decision means the new laws will not be able to come into force. There is likely to be an appeal to the Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court.

FILE – A woman enters the Oregon Department of Justice building in Salem, Oregon, May 28, 2020.

Andrew Selsky/AP

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