Oregon’s new law requiring criminal and mental health background checks for private gun sales has just gone into effect. Background checks were already required for sales by licensed dealers or at gun shows.
This hotly debated legislation does contain exemptions. For example, gun transfers among family members aren’t don’t require background checks, nor do temporary loans for hunting trapping, or target shooting. Still, some Oregon sheriffs say they won’t enforce the new law, including Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel.
OPB’s All Things Considered Host Kate Davidson spoke with Sheriff Daniel about his stance.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.
Q&A with Sheriff Dave Daniel
Kate Davidson: Why aren’t you enforcing this new law?
Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel: At the end of the day it boils down to money. We just don’t have the funds right now to support certain levels of enforcement. We talk about person crimes, which are certainly going to be top on our priority list, and then we go down to property crime, second on our list. Then you go down to a background check type of a law, which is really not a person crime or a property crime. If someone were to violate that, it’s more of a statute situation, and with our level of staffing — which is basically 10 hours a day, seven days a week, that’s is all we have for outward patrol — it makes it impossible for us to look at that type of a law.
KD: Josephine County has tried to raise levies for public safety and hasn’t succeeded.
DD: That’s correct, the last four levies have failed. This last one by a 2,000 vote margin.
KD: When you say “not enforce,” do you mean that you won’t go out looking for people who don’t comply with the new law? Or do you mean that if you were investigating a person crime, or a violent crime that’s already been committed, would you ignore the law in your investigation?
DD: No, I don’t think that’s the case. If you’re talking about investigating some type of a gun crime, where you have a person to person crime or potentially a property crime, if it comes across our desk we’ll look at it. However, in the totally of the investigation it is very low on a priority list as to whether a person went through some type of a background check.
The bad people are going to get guns regardless, whether this law makes a difference or not in how they do their gun transfers. I don’t think the state of Oregon really knows how big of an issue this is going to be yet. I know the Oregon State Police are going to have to ramp up their efforts in their firearms division just to try to run all these criminal histories on people should everybody start to follow this law.
KD: Looking locally at the application of the law in your county, is your stance purely financial or ideological as well? If you had the funds would it be something you went out to enforce?
DD: Ideologically it is important to me. I do believe that while this does not completely stop our Second Amendment rights to bear arms, it certainly is an infringement upon it. Personally, I think it’s a needless infringement. I don’t think the law needs to exist. I think it’s going to add a lot of taxpayer’s money to something that’s unnecessary.
KD: You’ve said in the past there are felonies happening in Josephine County every day and that’s your priority. But couldn’t, arguably, some of these felonies be prevented by helping to make sure people who shouldn’t have access to guns don’t have access through things like background checks?
DD: They’re going to get (a gun) anyway. That’s the bottom line. This process of having the people that are law abiding, and they want to transfer guns, go through the system, is fine. But the bad people are going to get the guns regardless. So I truly think it’s a waste of time.