An effort to undo a major gun-control bill passed by Oregon Democrats this year has failed, meaning the law will take effect on Saturday as scheduled.
Two Republican lawmakers who launched a referendum petition against Senate Bill 554 told OPB on Friday they had not collected the 74,680 signatures necessary to put the law before voters in next year’s general election. Those signatures are due by 5 p.m.
“I would say it was COVID that was the issue in getting this over the finish line,” said state Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, one of three chief sponsors of the petition. “I do want to thank those that were committed to getting the message out and collecting the signatures.”
Smith told OPB he’d last heard the effort had collected more than 30,000 signatures, far short of the necessary number. He said the campaign had relied on volunteers to circulate petition sheets, rather than paying professional signature gatherers.
Another chief petitioner, state Rep. E. Werner Reschke of Malin, called the effort’s failure “disappointing,” and tied it to the ongoing redistricting fight occurring in Salem.
“This is why our House Republican caucus is so invested in making sure the redistricting maps, which will shape Oregon politics for the next 10 years, are done right,” Reschke said in a statement. “If we want to stop bills that harm Oregonians from being rammed through the legislature, then we need better district lines to reflect and represent the views of all Oregonians.”
Like most gun control proposals, SB 554 was among the most contentious bills lawmakers took up during the 2021 regular session. The bill was an amalgamation of two separate proposals, which were united by Democrats to ensure passage of top priorities for members in the House and Senate.
One part of the bill is a “safe storage” law Democrats had worked for years to pass. Once it takes effect on Saturday, Oregon will join 11 other states that require gun owners to store their firearms in a safe or gun room, or to use a trigger lock to ensure a gun can’t be fired when not in use.
That requirement doesn’t apply if a gun owner is in “control” of a gun, by either being alone in their home or with other people allowed to use the gun. Failing to secure a firearm would result in a maximum fine of $500. That fine quadruples to $2,000 if a minor accesses an unsecured firearm.
The other piece of the bill enacts new gun bans in the state Capitol and Portland International Airport. It also allows public school districts, community colleges and universities to set their own policy banning guns.
While possessing a gun in public buildings is already illegal for many, state law has long had an exception for people who hold concealed handgun licenses. SB 554 removes that exemption.
State Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, was one of the bill’s chief champions in the Legislature. On Friday, she said she was not surprised the effort to overturn the law failed.
“The public is with us on the issue of gun safety,” Burdick said. “The challenge has always been to get the Legislature to respond to what the public really wants.”
Burdick suggested public opinion was influenced in part by recent instances of armed groups showing up at state capitols, including Oregon’s. “The people who are opposing this bill are actually the best poster child for the bill,” she said.
While Republicans widely opposed the gun control measure this year, members of the party also reacted angrily to pressure campaigns by gun-rights activists. Rather than urging Democrats to oppose the bill, groups like the Oregon Firearms Federation instead tried to convince Republicans to walk away from the Capitol to block the bill, sometimes issuing threats.
When a segment of Senate Republicans refused, two were targeted with recall campaigns that went nowhere.
The referendum campaign against SB 554 does not appear to be the only one primed to fail. Two separate petitions targeting a pair of bills dealing with elections law had not made any arrangements to turn in signatures with the Secretary of State’s office as of Thursday.
Janice Dysinger, a chief petitioner in both efforts, told OPB on Thursday she would be issuing a press release but did not elaborate on the status of the campaigns. Dysinger previously said it was uncertain the petitions would succeed.