Last week, the Lane County Commission passed a resolution saying the county is "unable to expend any county resources for the implementation" of Oregon's new gun background check law. SB 941 requires a background check for all gun transfers besides those between close relatives. But Lane County's Sheriff says his financially-troubled department, as well as the county's burdened District Attorney's office, can't afford to enforce the law. Commissioners voted 4-1 to pass the resolution, calling the law an "unfunded mandate," though it's unclear if the law technically fits that definition.
"It's somewhat amazing that it's based on unfunded mandates," says state Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Lane and Douglas Counties), who sponsored the bill.
According to Prozanski, several other bills passed this year would require similar enforcement to SB 941, and also don't include any source of funding. He suggests that SB 941 is being contested for more political reasons than economical.
"We'll be interested to see if [the county commissioners] are not going to enforce those other laws that have been passed," Prozanski says.
However, Jay Bozievich, a Lane County commissioner who voted for the resolution, says the county District Attorney, the jail and the police are already underfunded and overburdened, and adding this additional load without also providing funding is too much.
"We currently do not prosecute 1,800 viable felonies in Lane County every year at this time because of lack of funding," Bozievich says.
"We are a county in financial crisis, our public safety is not up to snuff. Every time we turn around there's a new bill that comes out of Salem that requires the county to spend additional money," Bozievich says.
Prozanski insists that this bill is an attempt to close loopholes allowing felons easy access to firearms that have been present for over 25 years. he points at websites such as www.armlist.com – which is a kind of Craigslist for firearms and ammunition – saying that they allow dangerous people access to dangerous weapons.
"The reality is that at each end of this scenario, no matter what the law is, I expect and would hope that the sheriff, the DA, as well as the chiefs of police and Lane County are going to look at these on a case by case basis as to the resources they have," Prozanski says. "Clearly if you have someone running guns and selling to felons, I hope they actually take the steps to prohibit that, because we do know that background checks do work."
The actual amount that SB 941 would cost Lane County is still being researched, but with a 4-1 vote the County Commissioners have already decided it will be too much. He likens the fight against this new bill to a similar fight the Lane County Commissioners undertook last year, against the National Defense Authorization Act. The commissioners fought against the act because of concerns that it infringed upon their constituents' constitutional rights.
Despite this, Bozievich doesn't completely oppose the idea of expanding background checks, but simply believes that this bill takes a few steps too far.
"I think what we're saying is that it is walking close to the edge," Bozievich says.