Background check law leads to some misfires.
The political fight over whether Oregon should have universal gun-sale background checks is over, for now. But a potentially nasty battle over implementing the new law is only just starting.
Senate Bill 941, which expands background checks to include most private person- to-person and online gun sales, became law on Sunday, 90 days after Democratic Gov. Kate Brown signed it. Due to a so-called "emergency clause," opponents cannot refer it to voters.
But critics say the new requirement can't be policed easily.
Even if violations are uncovered, they won't rise to a high-priority level for local law enforcement in most instances, opponents argue.
Several sheriffs in mostly rural counties - but not Lane County - have said they simply won't enforce the law at all. Backers of SB 941, meanwhile, are continuing their push to publicize and explain the new law, in an effort to increase compliance.
On Monday, Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy held a brief press conference to announce a new television ad that will air in the Eugene and Portland markets over the next two weeks. The ads are paid for by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that has spent heavily on lobbying for SB 941.
Piercy said she supports the new law because background checks are "the responsible thing to do."
"Background checks are good for public safety," she said. "Closing this loophole makes it harder for criminals to get guns."
Oregon law previously required background checks for sales of guns by federally licensed dealers, such as retail stores, and at gun shows, but not for private sales between individuals.
The checks are intended to flag felons and individuals with a history of severe mental illness, among others, who are prohibited from buying a gun.
Under the new law, to make a transaction legally a private seller and buyer must go together, in most cases, to a licensed gun dealer who agrees to conduct the background check on the buyer for a fee.
In the new ad, former Portland police chief Mike Reese argues that background checks will be "quick and easy" because most Oregonians live within 10 miles of a licensed gun dealer. There are about 2,000 licensed dealers in Oregon, although many of them are private gun collectors who do not have stores open to the general public.
Everytown for Gun Safety has reserved "six-figures" worth of airtime for the new spot, a spokeswoman said Monday. In April, the group spent roughly $40,000 to air television ads in the Eugene and Portland area, according to contracts filed with the Federal Communications Commission.
Because the ads are paid for by Everytown's nonprofit "educational" arm, the expense doesn't have to be reported as political spending in Oregon.
Opposition to the background check expansion has been strong in Lane County, despite the area's liberal political leanings. Two local Democratic lawmakers, Rep. Val Hoyle and Sen. Floyd Prozanski, were targeted for recalls by opponents of the policy.
The Hoyle recall effort was dropped in July, while the sponsor of the Prozanski recall effort has until early September to submit about 8,700 valid signatures to put his recall on the ballot.
Deputies won't get involved
In early June, the Lane County Board of Commissioners approved, on a 4-1 vote, an ordinance that declared the new law "an unfunded mandate" from the state. It said that the county "is unable" to spend "any county resources" on implementing or enforcing it.
On Monday, Lane County Sheriff Byron Trapp characterized that ordinance as a "statement of fact" rather than "a policy statement" that the county won't enforce the law.
However, he added that the sheriff's office has two-thirds the number of deputies it did in 2007, which means its focus is on crimes that "involve an immediate threat to a person or property."
Enforcing SB 941 "doesn't rise to the level of calls that keep my guys busy every day," Trapp said.
At the local level, enforcing the law would involve, for example, responding to complaints that an individual had failed to conduct a background check or charging someone who, in the course of a county investigation into other violations, was found to have bought a weapon without the background check.
Sellers could face escalating criminal charges - and civil liability - for selling a gun privately without a background check. Oregon State Police, meanwhile, will report the names of anyone who flunks a background checks to local law enforcement for potential investigating and leveling of charges.
Trapp said he shared concerns expressed by the bill's opponents that the law was logistically unenforceable.
There is no centralized registry of guns in Oregon - only five-year records of gun sale transactions - that could be used to track a gun found in a criminal's possession, he said. Offenders could claim they bought or sold a gun legally in a person-to-person sale before SB 941 became law.
And bringing relatively minor criminal charges for an unregulated sale would typically require "a level of investigation that takes a lot of time" for local law enforcement, he added.
Still, Trapp advised Lane County residents to comply with the new law.
"The likelihood of getting caught may not be that high, but the potential consequences, if you are caught, may be an unacceptable risk" to many people, he said.
Dealing themselves out
Another challenge to the law's implementation is whether enough gun dealers will agree to conduct background checks for private parties so as to make the process relatively easy. Dealers can charge a "reasonable" fee for the service, on top of the $10-per-application levy the state charges.
Last week, the Fred Meyer chain said it would not conduct private sale background checks at its 20 stores that sell firearms. Representatives of Walmart and Cabela's couldn't be reached Monday to discuss their policies.
Most smaller local stores contacted Monday said they would conduct background checks for fees ranging from $20 to $50.
Gayle Umenhofer, who owns Baron's Den & Shooting Range in south Eugene, said the store always has done background checks on private sales for those who opted to do so voluntarily - for a $25 fee.
"It's not a money-maker for us," she said. "We cover our costs."
Joe Williams, who owns the Gun Works Muzzleloading Emporium in Springfield, said he hadn't yet decided on a fee amount, but he said he was willing to provide the service "at the moment."
Calling state police to do a check has taken him up to 45 minutes in the past, however, Williams added, and he would stop doing checks "if it becomes too much of a headache."
"That's 45 minutes of my life I never get back," he said.
Troy Standard, who owns three pawn shops called Ace Buyers in Eugene and Springfield, said he was still on the fence about conducting the checks for private sellers.
Standard said he has many questions about how it would work, including how he might handle a situation where someone, standing in his store, flunks a background checks.
"I think it's the right thing to do," he said of the new law. "But I think law enforcement should be handling it on their own."
Email email@example.com. You can follow Saul on Twitter @SaulAHubbard.
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|Title Annotation:||Politics; Some gun dealers will not agree to perform the service for individuals selling weapons to others|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Aug 11, 2015|
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