A federal judge says Oregon’s new, stricter gun safety rules are constitutional.
In a 122-page written order issued late Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Karin Immergut found banning large capacity magazines and requiring a permit to purchase a firearm are in keeping with “the nation’s history and tradition of regulating uniquely dangerous features of weapons and firearms to protect public safety.”
Immergut’s order comes after a weeklong trial in early June testing the constitutionality of Oregon’s new gun laws, which voters approved last fall. It follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, in which the court’s conservative majority decided that no one should need special permission to exercise their Second Amendment right to carry firearms outside their home.
Large capacity magazines “are not commonly used for self-defense, and are therefore not protected by the Second Amendment,” Immergut wrote. “The Second Amendment also allows governments to ensure that only law-abiding, responsible citizens keep and bear arms.”
She ruled that Ballot Measure 114′s permitting system does not violate the Second Amendment and therefore does not deprive Oregonians of their liberty.
Immergut, a former U.S. attorney for Oregon, was appointed by then-President Donald Trump in 2019. Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, both Democrats, supported her nomination.
Ballot Measure 114 passed in November with 50.6% of the vote. Since its passage, firearms groups, sheriffs and gun store owners filed lawsuits challenging the law. In January, a state court judge blocked the law from going into effect.
The law would ban future purchases of so-called “large capacity 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.
The federal trial focused almost exclusively on the magazine restriction portion of the law. Days before the trial, Immergut set aside the aspects of the case that dealt with Measure 114′s permitting process, calling arguments against it “unripe” because any potential harm was in the future.
Plaintiffs argued regulating magazine capacity infringed on the rights granted by the Second Amendment. Attorneys pointed to the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which – among other things – states lower courts can no longer consider whether a law restricting firearms serves public interests, such as enhancing public safety. Rather, the Court ruled they should look to the text of the Second Amendment.
“These are our rights, endowed by our Creator and they belong to us and it’s not something for the government to give or take away as a privilege any time they see fit,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Mark Oliva said prior to Immergut’s ruling. The group is among the plaintiffs arguing the state’s tighter gun laws infringe on the Second Amendment.
The Supreme Court’s Bruen ruling also states firearms regulations must be “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” That has set off a new interest in Revolutionary War era historians and firearms experts who can explain the laws that governed firearms and the state of firearm technology in the late 18th Century.
In a 23-page section on the history and tradition of firearms regulations, Immergut said that at the time of the nation’s founding, “magazine” referred to ammunition depots. Rather, she wrote that the cartridge boxes which held individual rounds of ammunition were called “accoutrements” and were not considered arms.
Immergut said that magazines are necessary to operate many firearms but magazines holding more than 10 rounds “are never necessary to render firearms operable.”
Attorneys defending Measure 114 include lawyers for the state as well as the nonprofit Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety. They argued magazine capacity can be regulated because a magazine is not part of a firearm, but rather an accessory. Throughout the trial they called experts who testified about revolutionary history and types of firearms that were common at the time of the nation’s founding. Firearms that could fire more than one round without reloading were extremely uncommon, several experts testified. Historians also testified that deadly weapons – such as Bowie knives – had a history of being regulated when they posed threats to society.
The defense also stressed that part of the Bruen decision allows for new firearms regulations if there’s an “unprecedented societal concern.” They called experts who testified to the spike in mass shootings, especially during the last 30 years. High capacity magazines were used in all of the deadliest mass shootings, they testified.
Expert witnesses also testified that states with restrictions on magazines capable of holding 10 rounds or more had fewer mass shootings, and shootings that did occur in those states were less deadly.
The state’s case concluded with Jenna Longenecker. She testified that both of her parents were killed by gunfire. Her mother was killed in the 2012 Clackamas Town Center shooting and her father died by suicide several years later. Suicide accounted for 75% of all gun deaths in Oregon in 2021, according to the latest data from the Oregon Health Authority.
“I wanted to remind the Court that this is a very real issue that does happen to real people and has real lasting impacts,” Longenecker said during an interview following her testimony.
In her ruling, Immergut agreed.
She wrote that interpersonal gun violence increased dramatically in the early and mid-19th century, much of it involving pistols.
“State and municipal governments in the beginning half of the nineteenth century regulated weapons viewed as being particularly dangerous to public safety,” she wrote. “These regulations were tailored to address the particular features of the weapons that made them most dangerous to public safety.”
Immergut’s ruling is in line with a similar Washington state firearms case decided in June. A federal judge there ruled against firearms groups that sued to block Washington House Bill 1240. That legislation was signed into law in April and bans the sale and distribution of assault weapons, defined in the bill as “civilian versions of weapons created for the military and are designed to kill humans quickly and efficiently.”
“The Plaintiffs maintain that they need only show that the ‘arms’ regulated by HB 1240 are ‘in common use’ today for lawful purposes and so are not ‘unusual,’” U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bryan states in his ruling. “If they do, they contend, the weapon cannot be banned under Heller and Bruen. The Plaintiffs misread Heller and Bruen.”
In an email, the Oregon Firearms Federation said that while its leaders hadn’t had a chance to read Friday’s entire ruling, the decision is “simple nonsense and sure to be overturned at the 9th circuit.”
The Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety, which joined the state in defending Measure 114, said in a statement that Immergut’s decision brings the state closer to enacting policies which will save lives.
“The Supreme Court has articulated that Second Amendment rights are not unchecked — they come with responsibilities — and the U.S. District Court affirmed this in our case,” Executive Director Jess Marks said in a press release.
Despite the federal decision, Ballot Measure 114 remains blocked by a state court. A trial is scheduled for September in Harney County Circuit Court.