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Lane refuses gun 'mandate'.

Byline: Elon Glucklich The Register-Guard

Correction (published June 5, 2015): Oregon law allows private-party gun sales that don't take place at gun shows to be carried out without criminal background checks. That will change in mid-August, when newly passed Senate Bill 941, which requires background checks on all private-party sales regardless of location, goes into effect. A Page One story Wednesday and a City/Region story Monday incorrectly stated that existing law allows all private-party sales to be carried out without such background checks.

Lane County is too cash-strapped to enforce the state's new background check law on private gun sales, the county's board of commissioners decided Tuesday.

After more than 90 minutes of heated debate that covered everything from the constitutional origins of the Second Amendment to the difference between the words "as" and "are" in a sentence, commissioners passed 4-1 a resolution reaffirming their support of the right to bear arms and opposition to what they call an unfunded mandate created by Senate Bill 941.

Commissioner Pete Sorenson cast the lone no vote, saying the resolution was basically an effort by the other commissioners to pander to their voter bases.

The Oregon Legislature passed SB 941, and Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law last month. Proponents say it closes a loophole that lets criminals evade the background check system. Opponents argue it infringes on their Second Amendment rights, won't stop criminals from getting guns and burdens the county with more responsibility without offering funds to pay for it.

For sales of guns between private individuals, the law requires the buyer to pass a criminal background check carried out by a federally licensed gun dealer before taking ownership of the weapon. Previously, private-party sales could be carried out without such checks.

At the local level, enforcing the law would involve, for example, responding to complaints that individuals had failed to obtain the background checks, 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.

Commissioner Jay Bozievich requested the issue be brought up for discussion.

"There are times when we need to let legislative bodies above us know about what the residents of Lane County, more than 300,000 residents, believe is important," Bozievich said Tuesday.

By the commissioners' own admission, the resolution won't change Lane County's duty to uphold state and federal laws. It's not even certain SB 941 meets the state's technical definition of an unfunded mandate.

"A borderline call"

Oregon's Constitution says the Legislature can't pass laws creating undue financial burdens on local governments without offering money or increased taxing ability to fund them. But there's an exception for laws with a financial impact less than or equal to 0.01 percent of a local government's annual budget.

That would be about $60,000 a year for Lane County, Alex Cuyler, the county's government and legislative affairs manager, told commissioners on Tuesday.

The county's cost to enforce SB 941 "is probably very close" to the roughly $60,000 cost that would qualify the bill as an unfunded mandate on the county.

"It's a borderline call," he said.

Several commissioners, including Bozievich and Sid Leiken, said any added burden the state puts on the county without paying for it should be considered an unfunded mandate.

Lane County Sheriff Byron Trapp answered questions at Leiken's request. He agreed that SB 941 puts an extra burden on the Lane County Sheriff's Office.

The county would bear the burden of tracking down anyone suspected of a private gun sale without a background check.

"Mostly what the law does is affect law-abiding, legal gun owners," Trapp said.

The commissioners' debate came amid widespread anger from gun-rights supporters in Oregon about the new law.

"I'm furious Salem passed this," Duane Taylor of Junction City said Tuesday during a public comment session several hours before the commissioners' discussion.

"I've never seen such behavior by a legislative body," Marcola resident Mark Cosby said, taking a jab at the Oregon Legislature.

Most of the speakers shared that view, but not all.

"Any resolution you make here won't change U.S. law, won't change state law," Sue Miller Wielesek, a 72-year-old Eugene resident and longtime gun owner, told commissioners.

"Stop wasting the money I pay you. Please stop with these resolutions that are useless."

Tempers flare

Lane County Counsel Stephen Dingle offered two resolutions for commissioners to consider.

The first offered generic support for Second Amendment rights without mentioning the background check law. The second included statements specific to the law, such as, "Senate Bill 941 contains an unfunded mandate for Lane County government in the form of investigations, enforcement, prosecution and incarceration."

Commissioners opted for the second resolution. As debate wound along, tempers ratcheted up.

Commissioner Pat Farr initially was against the second resolution, saying the wording seemed to elevate the Second Amendment above all the others in importance. After Commissioner Faye Stewart proposed an amendment clarifying the language, Farr said he could support it.

Sorenson then outlined some of the reasons he opposed the resolution.

"We have many unfunded mandates," Sorenson said. "The Legislature doesn't give us enough money to deal with public health and elections.a... Are we not going to have public health (programs) or elections?"

Sorenson, who spoke right after Farr, said the discussion was basically an effort by the majority of the board to score political points.

"I don't need to be reminded we have a Constitution," Sorenson said.

That didn't sit well with Farr.

"I'm incensed if you ever suggest I vote a certain way because of the majority of the board," Farr told Sorenson.

Bozievich told Sorenson, "I find your speech fascinating and duplicitous," noting Sorenson pushed for a resolution last year opposing the National Defense Authorization Act because of concerns over constitutional rights.

Commissioners then voted on the resolution and moved on to other matters.

Follow Elon on Twitter @EGlucklich. Send emails to him at elon.glucklich@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Lane County Government; The county commissioners vote 4-1 not to enforce a state law that would expand background checks
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 3, 2015
Words:998
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