PORTLAND, Ore. -- An Oregon judge is set to decide whether a gun control law approved by voters in November violates the state’s constitution in a trial that started Monday.
The law, one of the toughest in the nation, was among the first gun restrictions to be passed after a major U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year changed the guidance judges are expected to follow when considering Second Amendment cases.
Measure 114 has been tied up in federal and state court, casting confusion over its fate ever since voters narrowly passed it in November 2022.
The law requires people to undergo a criminal background check and complete a gun safety training course to obtain a permit to buy a gun. It also bans high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
Circuit Court Judge Robert S. Raschio is presiding over the trial in Harney County, in rural southeast Oregon. Raschio temporarily blocked the law from taking effect in December after gun owners filed a lawsuit arguing it infringed upon the right to bear arms under the Oregon Constitution.
In opening statements, an attorney representing the gun owners who filed the suit reiterated that claim Monday.
“This case is not about public health, public safety or public concern,” said Tony Aiello, Jr. “This is about the individual right to self defense and the right to bear arms.”
The defense said said the law doesn’t “unduly frustrate” individual rights and represents a “reasonable legislative response to public safety concerns" such as mass shootings.
“When they passed Measure 114, Oregon voters made a legislative judgment about the serious and immediate threat that large capacity magazines pose to public safety, and that judgment is entitled to this court's deference,” said Anit Jindal, one of the lawyers representing Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Oregon State Police Superintendent Casey Codding.
Kotek, Rosenblum and Codding are all named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Among other things, the two sides disagree over whether large-capacity magazines are used for self-defense and whether they're protected under the Oregon Constitution.
The plaintiffs argued that firearms capable of firing multiple rounds were present in Oregon in the 1850s and known to those who ratified the state constitution, which took effect in 1859. This, they said, pointed to “a long line of firearm evolution that was always geared toward multi-shot and repeating fire.”
The defense, meanwhile, said modern semiautomatic firearms are “technologically distinct from the revolvers and multi-barrel pistols that were available in the 1850s.” They argued that contemporary large-capacity magazines make mass shootings more deadly because they allow shooters to quickly fire more rounds without reloading.
The plaintiffs also expressed concern that Oregonians may face long wait times to obtain the permit they need to buy a gun. The defense said the process wouldn't take longer than 30 days.
The Oregon measure was passed after a Supreme Court ruling in June 2022 created new standards for judges weighing gun laws. That decision fueled a national upheaval in the legal landscape for U.S. firearm law.
The ruling tossed aside a balancing test that judges had long used to decide whether to uphold gun laws. It directed them to only consider whether a law is consistent with the country’s “historical tradition of firearm regulation,” rather than take into account public interests such as promoting public safety.
Since then, there has been confusion about what laws can survive. Courts have overturned laws designed to keep weapons away from domestic abusers, felony defendants and marijuana users. The Supreme Court is expected to decide this fall whether some decisions have gone too far.
In a separate federal case over the Oregon measure, a judge in July ruled it was lawful under the U.S. Constitution. U.S. District Judge Karin J. Immergut appeared to take into account the Supreme Court's new directive to consider the history of gun regulations.
Immergut found large-capacity magazines “are not commonly used for self-defense, and are therefore not protected by the Second Amendment.” Even if they were protected, she wrote, the law’s restrictions are consistent with the country’s “history and tradition of regulating uniquely dangerous features of weapons and firearms to protect public safety.”
She also found the permit-to-purchase provision to be constitutional, noting the Second Amendment “allows governments to ensure that only law-abiding, responsible citizens keep and bear arms.”
The plaintiffs in that federal case, which include the Oregon Firearms Federation, have appealed the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ten states have permit-to-purchase laws similar to the new Oregon measure: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, according to data compiled by the Giffords Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Eleven states and Washington, D.C., limit large-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, Illinois and Vermont, according to the Giffords center. The bans in Illinois and Vermont apply to long guns.
This version corrects the spelling of the last name of Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.