A trial gets underway Monday at the federal courthouse in downtown Portland that will determine whether a voter-passed initiative to regulate firearms in Oregon is lawful under the U.S. Constitution.
Measure 114 bans future purchases of magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition. It also requires those wishing to buy a firearm to get a permit first. Permits will require applicants to complete a safety class and a federal background check.
Oregon voters passed the measure in November, with just 50.6% of the vote. And though there were yes votes from every county, the greatest support for the measure came from Multnomah County. Several rural counties voted nearly 3-1 against.
The law, which was supposed to go into effect in December, has been on hold pending complaints filed in state and federal court. With a case filed in Harney County set to go to trial in September, it’s improbable the outcome of this weeklong trial in federal court will result in the law going into effect. Still, the five-day bench trial before U.S. District Court Judge Karin Immergut, a Trump appointee, is a critical step for both backers and opponents of Measure 114.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a major Second Amendment case, scrapping a New York gun law that required people to prove they had a special reason for needing a weapon in order to get a permit to carry a firearm in public. Instead, the court’s conservative majority ruled no one should need special permission to exercise their Second Amendment right to carry firearms. Needing a permit to carry a gun in public was fine, according to the court, but the permits had to be available to everyone who met federal requirements to own a gun. The ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen did not invalidate the licensing requirements, training requirements or background checks required to possess a firearm in some states.
Oregon was the only state to pass a ballot measure tightening gun laws in 2022. Campaigners had just begun gathering signatures to put it on the ballot in May 2022 when the mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde contributed to a surge in voter sentiment that more needed to be done to curb gun violence. The case now before Judge Immergut is among the first to test the new constraints on gun regulations applied by Bruen.
The case set to play out this week in the federal courthouse in Portland was originally four cases brought by several parties. The cases have now been combined.
Among others, the plaintiffs include the elected sheriffs of Columbia, Sherman, Union and Umatilla counties. They argue Measure 114 violates the U.S. Constitution on multiple grounds. They contend if Measure 114 were to take effect, they and their “officers will be unable to adequately protect the residents” of their respective counties.
Plaintiffs also include the Oregon Firearms Federation, a nonprofit organization that “represents the interests of thousands of gun owners who reside in Oregon.” The owners of two gun stores, Coat of Arms Custom Firearms in Keizer and Garner’s Sporting-Goods in Pendleton, as well as the owner of Security Guard Training Academy based in Portland, have also signed onto the lawsuit.
“Oregon has gone its entire history without subjecting individuals’ ability to exercise fundamental rights to the whims of government officials or taking common arms away from law-abiding citizens,” Shawn Lindsay, attorney for the plaintiffs, writes in court documents submitted last month. “It should not be allowed to start now.”
Lawyers for the Oregon Department of Justice, which is defending Measure 114 and attempting to implement the law, argue both the permitting requirements and the restrictions on large capacity magazines are constitutional and comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling.
“Plaintiffs have not set forth specific facts showing that Measure 114 cannot be implemented in any circumstance,” writes Harry Wilson, an attorney from the law firm Markowitz Herbold that is assisting the state in this case, in court documents. “On the contrary, the evidence shows that [Oregon State Police] is prepared to implement its functions under Measure 114.”
Last month, Immergut denied summary judgment in the case, stating there were disputed facts, “novel questions of law as well as issues of public importance” and that any judgments she may reach in the case would benefit from a full record of the evidence presented during trial. Few courts, she noted, have issued opinions since the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision about what permitting laws and large capacity magazine restrictions may now be lawful.
Immergut noted, the Bruen decision requires her to consider how large capacity magazines are used in modern day society, their prevalence and whether Measure 114′s restrictions are covered by the “plain text” of the Second Amendment.
“The parties agree that [large capacity magazines] are owned and possessed by millions of Americans, but do not agree that [large capacity magazines] are commonly used for lawful purposes such as self-defense,” Immergut states in her order. “The parties also present competing factual evidence regarding the commonality and use of firearms capable of firing more than ten rounds of ammunition without reloading throughout history. These are central questions that this Court must answer in determining the constitutionality of BM 114′s restrictions on [large capacity magazines], making these disputed facts highly material.”
Other groups with an interest in the case have also filed motions in support or opposition to Measure 114.
A coalition of gun groups argue that the measure would harm them if it were to become law because it gives too much power to local law enforcement officials to deny permits.
“Measure 114 is history repeating itself, a history of discrimination that Oregon must leave behind. Whether the actions of the majority lie in caring for others or downright paternalism, the Constitution cares not,” attorneys representing the National African American Gun Association, the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association, the DC Project Foundation, and Operation Blazing Sword - Pink Pistols, which advocates for the rights of LGBTQ+ people to own firearms. “The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees them that right. Oregon owes them that right. Measure 114 will take that right away by delaying and arbitrarily denying them the ability to be armed. It is not the majority that our Bill of Rights rises to protect. It is the minority.”
Lawyers for the city of Portland filed a motion encouraging the judge to find Measure 114 constitutional. According to the Portland Police Bureau, the city has experienced a yearslong increase in gun violence with more than 60 firearm-linked homicides and 1,300 shootings, in 2021 and 2022.
“The volume of these firearm incidents has eclipsed all previous records for Portland,” the city’s motion states. “Ballot Measure 114, which passed by an overwhelming majority of City voters, directly addresses those serious public-safety and public-health concerns.”
The five-day trial is expected to wrap up Friday, though it could be weeks, if not months, before Immergut issues a written opinion.