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Oregon Legislative Leaders Seek New Bill Tightening State's Gun Laws


House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, talks about her proposal to tighten Oregon's gun laws.  To her right is House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte.

House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, talks about her proposal to tighten Oregon's gun laws.  To her right is House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte.

Jeff Mapes/OPB

In the wake of last October’s mass shootings at Umpqua Community College, the Oregon Legislature will have another fight over gun laws in the new session that starts next week.

 A bill by House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, would no longer allow gun dealers in Oregon to go through with a firearms sale if the state police can’t complete a background check in three business days.   

The bill would once again make Oregon’s gun laws tougher than federal laws. The provision allowing a sale after three days was originally sought by the National Rifle Association and has long been in federal law.  

Williamson said the measure, House Bill 4147, is a logical follow-up to the heavily fought-over bill legislators passed last year that expanded background checks to cover many Internet sales and other private gun transactions.  

“I believe it’s a small change that gets to the intent of what we have already done,” Williamson said Tuesday in a meeting previewing the upcoming session for reporters.

She said the state police were unable to complete about 8,400 requested background checks  last year – 3.2 percent of the total checks – within the three-day time limit.  

House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, opposed last year’s background check bill, as did every Oregon Republican in both the House and Senate.  He spoke skeptically of the latest proposal.  

“Can you imagine being a woman trying to buy a handgun because of a threat by a potential abuser and being told, ‘Sorry, we’re going to make you wait,’” McLane said, adding that “when people are looking to buy handguns in a short period of time, they are often for personal safety.”  

The issue has gained political traction following the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting last year that left nine dead. FBI Director James Comey later said that the man arrested in the crime, Dylann Roof, was able to buy a gun despite being ineligible because he had admitted to illegal drug use.  However, the FBI was unable to locate the needed records within the three-day background check period.  

Everytown for Gun Safety, a national group that provided key political support for last year’s Oregon background check bill, has been pushing for legislation in Congress and around the country to give officials more time to conduct background checks.

At least one other controversial gun bill has been introduced for the upcoming session.  Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, the chief sponsor of last year’s background check bill, has introduced legislation that would allow health providers, family members and educators to tell the Oregon State Police that someone they know is experiencing a mental health crisis and should not be allowed to buy a gun in the next 30 days.

Prozanski, whose district reaches down to Umpqua Community College, could not be reached for comment on his measure, Senate Bill 1551, this week. 

Legislative leaders cast doubt on whether his bill would go anywhere this year. Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said the Prozanski measure will have “tougher sledding” than the bill dealing with background checks.  

Burdick, the Legislature’s most prominent supporter of tighter gun laws, said she is working on a similar approach that she said won’t be ready until the longer session in 2017.  

“We’re not trying for 2016 because the issues of due process and the issues of rights are very complicated when you talk about separating anybody from their guns,” she said.                               

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