After a tumultuous legislative session and the longest walkout in Oregon history, Oregon legislators voted Wednesday to ban so-called “ghost guns,” 3-D printed firearms without serial numbers that are assembled at home and can be easily purchased online.
The original gun safety legislation would have also allowed cities and counties to prohibit firearms in their buildings and raise the minimum age to buy a firearm in Oregon from 18 to 21. Those provisions were scrapped as part of a deal to bring Senate Republicans back to work.
In March, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, a Democrat, said gun safety measures were her top priority this legislative session. This was the fourth time she pushed for legislation banning ghost guns.
“Un-serialized guns are bad for everyone except criminals who don’t want to get caught,” she said.
The legislation, which now heads to Gov. Tina Kotek for her signature, effectively expands on the legal definition of a firearm under federal law to include unfinished frames and lower receivers, major handgun and rifle components which, when fully fabricated, require a serial number.
Companies have begun selling lower receivers which fall just shy of the legal definition, allowing them to skirt serial number requirements, background check laws, and other laws meant to restrict access to firearms.
Kotek has said she supports the legislation.
“This is a common sense, long overdue reform that I hope can prevent the kinds of tragedies we saw last year in Buffalo, Uvalde and Bend,” Kotek said at the March rally before HB 2005 was stripped of its age restrictions. “I look forward to that bill reaching my desk,”
None of the firearms used in the three mass shootings Kotek referenced would have been illegal under the bill passed Wednesday.
The Oregon Firearms Federation, a gun rights group currently suing the state to stop voter-approved gun laws from taking effect, called the ghost gun ban a “gun grab” and part of “the left’s extremist agenda.”
Once signed into law, owning or selling an un-serialized firearm will be a Class B violation, a non-criminal offense punishable with a fine. Manufacturing or selling an undetectable firearm, such as a plastic 3-D printed firearm, will be a felony. Owning one will be a misdemeanor.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported last year a 1,000% increase in the number of homemade firearms the agency traced between 2016 and 2021. The Biden Administration instituted new rules on the un-serialized firearms in August, but firearms companies quickly circumvented those rules. Previously, kits had shipped with all the tools necessary to complete assembly at home. After the rules took effect, companies began selling the components separately.
A federal judge ruled in March that those rules can’t be enforced. The United States District Court Judge for the Northern District of Texas, Reed O’Connor, said in a March ruling that when the ATF changed the definition of frame and receiver, it likely overstepped its authority. O’Connor granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting the rules from being enforced.
Last month, Polymer 80, the leading manufacturer of ghost gun kits, settled a lawsuit with the City of Los Angeles for $5 million. Los Angeles police recovered 700 ghost guns in 2020. The lawsuit alleged the company was violating the federal Gun Control Act by failing to conduct background checks on kit buyers. As part of the settlement, Polymer 80 parts sold in California must now be serialized and the company must complete background checks on kit buyers in the state.
The Oregon legislation passed Wednesday comes as Portland — along with many U.S. cities — has experienced skyrocketing rates of gun violence. In Portland, the police bureau’s gun violence team isn’t seeing the same dramatic increase in ghost gun recoveries the ATF reported.
Portland Police Lt. Ken Duilio, who leads the teams charged with investigating and preventing gun violence, said that of the 1,364 firearms they recovered in 2022, 48 of them, or 3.5%, would have been banned under this new legislation. Seven of those un-serialized firearms were used in crimes against another person, like assault, robbery or murder.
“I just don’t think it comes up enough,” Duilio said. “Ban or no ban, I don’t think it makes a huge impact.”
Tracing a firearm using the serial number can sometimes be helpful, he said, but most of their investigations focus on using the unique markings each gun leaves on shell casings.
Ghost guns, like other firearms, also leave those unique markings and can be traced through a national ballistics database. Duilio said Portland police have never recovered an undetectable 3-D printed firearm.
The ghost gun was one of several pieces of gun legislation under consideration this session aimed at tightening firearms access in the state. Another bill which Democrats agreed to drop in exchange for ending the walkout aimed to accomplish what Ballot Measure 114 was meant to do before being blocked by a state judge. Measure 114, which voters narrowly approved in November, would require a permit to purchase a firearm and ban magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Those policies are being challenged in state and federal court and their fates lie with the judges presiding over the trials.
If Kotek signs the ghost gun ban, the provisions will take effect immediately. Violations of the requirement to serialize firearms will not be penalized until Sept. 1, 2024.