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Fact vs. fiction: A bill to expand background checks on gun sales

Legislation expected to be introduced in February that would extend background checks to private sales


By Anna Staver, Statesman Journal reporter, for the Northwest News Exchange

Before the first gavel has fallen in the February legislative session, supporters and opponents of a bill to expand background checks for gun sales are sparring over the proposed language.

If the verbal exchanges during a packed hearing of the Senate Interim Committee on Judiciary in mid January were a prelude, gun control could be the partisan fight of the 2014 session.

by: GARY ALLEN - Bill - The legislation would extend to all manner of firearm purchases in Oregon.

Who is exempt from background checks if this bill passes?

Gun owners wouldn’t need to use the Firearm Instant Check System for a background check to sell or give a gun to their spouses, domestic partners, parents, step-parents, step-children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and personal representatives or trustees who are designated to carry out a person’s will.

State Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) plans to amend the bill to include first cousins and is open to other suggestions like adding aunts and uncles.

That would still prohibit a person from giving a gun to a boyfriend or girlfriend, said Kevin Starrett, executive director for the Oregon Firearms Federation.

Would this bill create a state registry of gun owners?

“It’s a step in that direction,” said state Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg). “I think they are wanting to get to it one step at a time.”

The bill would require a gun owner to submit the make, model and serial number of the gun they are selling along with the buyer’s personal information.

“Anybody who says this bill is not a registry cannot read,” Starrett said.

If the Legislature wanted to create a statewide gun registry, Prozanski said, it’s been collecting this information on dealer and gun show sales for 23 years.

“It’s not a registry. (The bill) extends what our current law has been since 1989; a process for background checks to be completed,” Prozanski said. “All we are doing is closing a loophole.”

Could the bill be effective without a gun registry?

Kruse doesn’t think so. He and Starrett both said tracking serial numbers on guns would be the only way to trace whether you sold your neighbor a shotgun without a background check.

“How do we know now if someone doesn’t check during a private sale at a gun show,” said state Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland).

Dembrow and Prozanski both said they believe most people would follow the law.

“We have a code of honor as citizens that you are going to follow the law,” Prozanski said.

How long does the state keep the personal information it collects from background checks?

If you pass your background check, OSP destroys your information after 10 days.

The only exception to the 10-day rule is if you pass, but you had an out-of-state conviction. Keeping those records can expedite the approval process if you buy another gun.

But if you fail the background check, Oregon keeps your data for up to five years.

What would be the consequences for not running a background check?

The bill states violators could be punished with up to 30 days imprisonment and/or a $1,250 fine for a first offense. A second offense could result in a maximum prison term of five years and/or a $125,000 fine.

“If we are dealing with people we are attempting to target, that’s fine,” Kruse said. “But I’m worried about making criminals of people who aren’t really criminals. People who are going to say this is a violation of my Second Amendment.”

Could you loan your friend a gun for the weekend?

The bill would require a background check for gun sales, gifts and leases. That means you can loan a friend your 12-gauge shotgun for a hunting trip or share guns at a shooting range.

“This really is focused on people who are transferring so that person then has free use over a long period,” Dembrow said.

Would this bill confiscate weapons or lead to the confiscation of weapons?

Nothing in the bill would allow Oregon to restrict specific gun models or ammunition, but Starrett worried that’s the end game.

He pointed to New York as an example of a state that used a gun registry as a checklist when it banned certain guns and ammunition.

“You don’t confiscate things unless you know where they are,” Starrett said.

Prozanski disagreed, saying, “In the 23 years that we’ve had background checks in this state, it has never led to confiscation of gun.”

What happens to felons when they fail a background check?

Opponents of the background check bill have said felons who are turned down for gun purchases face no consequences under the current law.

Oregon State Police spokesman Gregg Hastings said sellers aren’t told why a person was denied, and OSP doesn’t notify parole or probation officers.

At first blush it would look like there aren’t consequences for failing a background check, but Prozanski, who works as a prosecutor in Eugene and Florence, said he is working on a case where someone is facing a parole violation for trying to buy a gun.

The answer seems to depend on the city and the prosecutor.



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