Lawyers for two Harney County residents who are suing the state to block Oregon’s new gun laws wrapped up their arguments Wednesday. They presented two and a half days of expert testimony from firearms experts, law enforcement officers and other people who regularly use firearms in the course of their day-to-day lives.
Measure 114 requires a permit to purchase a firearm and a completed background check and bans magazines holding over 10 rounds of ammunition. It also bans magazines “that can be readily restored, changed, or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition.” The provisions were blocked in December by Harney County Circuit Court Judge Robert Raschio pending this week’s trial.
On the opening day of the trial, the plaintiffs called Derek LeBlanc, a firearms instructor, and Ashley Hlebinsky, a former curator at the Cody Firearms Museum in Wyoming.
LeBlanc testified that, for self-defense, he recommends people get a firearm capable of holding as many rounds as possible. Questioned by Oregon Department of Justice attorneys defending Measure 114, LeBlanc conceded that he doesn’t carry the largest magazines possible, such as 60 or 100 round magazines.
Hlebinsky testified that there have been points in history when people carried more advanced firearms than the military. The Oregon Court of Appeals has in the past said firearms that evolved from military ordnance are not protected under the state constitution.
Hlebinsky also testified that there were many early firearms capable of firing multiple rounds without needing to be reloaded, and several makes and models that held over 10 rounds or used magazine-style feeding devices. During cross-examination, Hlebinsky said many of the earlier rifles she mentioned in her testimony were only available in Europe or, if they were in the United States, they were only in very limited numbers.
Hlebinsky’s husband works in the firearms industry and owns over $1 million in stock in an ammunition company. Her ties to the firearms industry and lack of formal training as a historian led a federal judge to question her credibility in a federal trial testing Measure 114′s legality under the U.S. Constitution.
“Ms. Hlebinsky lacks background and training as a historian,” U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut wrote in her July ruling, which found Measure 114 federally constitutional. “More troubling to this Court, Ms. Hlebinsky has both professional and personal ties to pro-gun groups and the firearms industry, which this Court finds limit her ability to serve as a neutral expert in this case.”
Scott Springer, who manufactures firearms parts and accessories, went over several different handgun, rifle, and shotgun magazines, and showed how the most common 10-round magazines can be altered to accept more than 10 rounds. The modifications require a drill, belt sander or additional parts.
Oregon State Police Superintendent Casey Codding, Union County Sheriff Cody Bowen and Harney County Sheriff Dan Jenkins all testified that their troopers and deputies carry firearms with 17-round magazines plus one round in the chamber. They also carry an additional two extra magazines for a total of 52 rounds. Codding said many of his troopers in rural areas take their firearms home with them because they start and end their days at home.
Bowen and Jenkins said their jurisdictions cover large geographic areas where response times can be lengthy. Bowen said citizens have asked him what they are supposed to do while waiting for a potentially 30-minute response “while somebody is beating on the door saying they’re going to kill me.”
“My answer to them, you know, defend yourself,” Bowen testified. “As far as human life, you have every right to defend yourself. You do whatever it takes to stay alive and wait for us to get there.”
Both sheriffs said their deputies have often relied on armed civilians to provide cover for them during incidents. They also testified that residents and deputies use their firearms to protect themselves, their families and their livestock from predators including bears, wolves and coyotes.
Bowen said he recently had a run-in with a bear, although he said the bear “didn’t get his filthy paws on me, but it was way too close for my comfort.”
Lawyers defending Measure 114 objected to much of Codding’s, Bowen’s and Jenkins’ testimony because the law has carve-outs for law enforcement to own and carry high-capacity magazines. Special Assistant Attorney General Harry Wilson said that, unlike citizens, law enforcement has the authority and duty to protect the public.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that police do not have a constitutional duty to protect the public from harm.
Lawyers challenging the new law said law enforcement’s assessment of what is necessary for self-defense is relevant. Raschio agreed and allowed the testimony.
Cattle rancher Shane Otley testified that he carries a Glock 380 and an AR-15. In the Glock, he said he carries a five-round magazine, and in the AR-15, he said he uses between 10 and 30-round magazines. He said he carries the Glock for personal defense and the AR-15 for protecting his livestock.
Harney County gun store owner Ben Callaway testified about the various kinds of magazines and firearms he frequently orders and sells. He testified that several attempts to order 10-round magazines had been rejected by out-of-state companies citing Measure 114′s prohibition against magazines that can be modified to hold more than 10 rounds.