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Federal judge upholds Oregon gun law banning large magazines, requiring permit

A federal judge has upheld a voter-approved Oregon law that bans large ammunition magazines and requires permits to buy guns.

U.S. District Court Judge Karin Immergut wrote in a 122-page opinion published late Friday afternoon that all parts of Oregon’s Measure 114, approved by voters last year, are constitutional. But the law remains on hold because of an ongoing court case in Harney County, where a trial is scheduled for September. 

Measure 114, which narrowly passed last fall, would ban making, selling or buying ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. It also would require people to take a firearm safety course and pass a background check to receive a permit to buy a gun. And it would close a loophole in federal gun law that allows people to buy guns without a completed background check if it takes more than three days to process a background check. 

“Before this court are two core questions: (1) can the state of Oregon limit the number of bullets to 10, that a law-abiding citizen can fire without reloading; and (2) can the state of Oregon require firearm purchasers to obtain a permit, which imposes various requirements, including a completed background check, safety training and consideration of mental health status, before purchasing a firearm,” Immergut wrote. “After a weeklong bench trial, this court concludes that the answer to each of these questions is yes.”

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, whose office defended Measure 114, welcomed the news.

“Great news from the federal court today! After a weeklong trial in early June, U.S. District Court Judge Karin Immergut ruled that Oregon’s new gun safety laws are constitutional in their entirety,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “For now, Measure 114 remains on hold due to a state court order from Harney County. But our team looks forward to ultimately prevailing in the state courts as well. Measure 114’s provisions are common sense safety measures that will save lives.” 

The Oregon Firearms Federation, which describes itself as the state’s “only no-compromise gun rights organization” was the lead plaintiff in the case. Three other federal lawsuits filed by Oregon residents, gun manufacturers, gun shops and other firearms groups were consolidated with the Oregon Firearms Federation’s case. 

The firearms federation posted a statement on its website indicating that it will appeal the decision, which it called “absurd.” The group also personally attacked Immergut, calling her “painfully ignorant and in the pocket of Oregon’s far left ‘Department of Justice.’”

“Today, Judge Karin Immergut ruled against gun owners, the Second Amendment and a basic understanding of the English language and ruled that Ballot Measure 114  is just fine,” the statement said. “The decision is 122 pages and we just received it so we have not had time to analyze it in depth,” the website said. What we have read defies belief.  While not entirely unexpected, Immergut’s ruling is simple nonsense and sure to be overturned at the 9th circuit.”

Large-capacity magazines

Plaintiffs argued that large-capacity magazines, which allow gun users to fire more than 10 shots without reloading, are standard and commonly used for self-defense. But Immergut said the evidence they provided was largely anecdotal and outweighed by data compiled by an expert witness for the state.

Lucy Allen, the senior managing director at National Economic Research Associates, testified that her analysis of hundreds of incidents involving people using guns to defend themselves found no instances where a person fired more than 10 shots. On average, 2.3 shots are fired in those incidents, Allen testified. 

But large-capacity magazines are commonly used in mass shootings, including the three deadliest shootings in American history: the 2017 Las Vegas shooting at a country music festival that killed 60 people; the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, where 49 people died; and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting where 32 people died.

When shooters didn’t use large-capacity magazines and had to pause to reload their guns, would-be victims were able to flee, hide or fight back. Nine children were able to run when a school shooter in Newtown, Connecticut, stopped to reload his gun in 2012, and congregants at a synagogue shooting in California in 2019 were able to chase the shooter out after he fired all 10 rounds and tried to reload his weapon, the opinion continued.

“Defendants presented credible evidence at trial demonstrating that the relationship between restrictions on (large-capacity magazines) and reductions in mass shootings is so pronounced that it is a causal relationship, meaning that the restrictions were at least partly responsible for the reductions,” Immergut wrote. 

She concluded that the new permit requirement is similar to the permits required in Oregon and other states to carry a concealed handgun, and that the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed Oregon’s concealed carry permit system in a 2022 ruling that overturned a more stringent New York permit law. 

Measure 114 remains on hold at least through September as the state court case continues. Meanwhile, Gov. Tina Kotek on Thursday signed a new state law that took effect immediately and prohibits the manufacture or sale of so-called “ghost guns,” or homemade firearms that lack serial numbers and can’t be traced. 

Additional gun legislation isn’t likely during the legislative short session in 2024, but pro-gun groups are trying to put a measure on the 2024 ballot to eliminate Oregon’s concealed carry permit law and allow firearm owners to  carry concealed weapons without licenses. 

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