CANBY, Ore. – An Oregon law dubbed the nation’s “most extreme” gun control measure heads to trial next week in a case that has drawn close attention from firearm advocates and opponents.
“I have never seen this many people so interested in a legal proceeding,” attorney Tony Aiello Jr. told Fox News.
“This case is about a bare majority of voters passing a poorly-written ballot measure that erodes, and I would say erases, a constitutional right,” added Aiello, who is representing a pair of Harney County gun owners challenging Measure 114 under the Oregon Constitution.
Oregonians passed Measure 114 last November with 50.65% of the vote, with voters in just six of the state’s 36 counties supporting it. The law, which groups like the NRA’s legislative arm deem “the nation’s most extreme gun control Initiative,” requires a permit to purchase any gun and bans the sale of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds.
But the law hasn’t taken effect due to immediate legal challenges at both the federal and state level.
Federal Judge Karin Immergut ruled in July that Oregon’s law is in line with a U.S. tradition of “regulating uniquely dangerous features of weapons and firearms to protect public safety.” Plaintiffs are appealing Immergut’s ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Aiello, meanwhile, will go to court on Monday for Harney County gun owners Joseph Arnold and Cliff Asmussen, arguing that Measure 114 doesn’t pass muster under the Oregon Constitution because it would operate as an outright ban.
The interfaith group Lift Every Voice Oregon crafted the measure and collected more than 130,000 signatures to place it on the ballot last fall. The group argues a permit-to-purchase system will reduce homicides, suicides and other shootings.
“When our neighbors are bleeding, we cannot stand idly by,” Rev. Mark Knutson, one of the chief petitioners for the measure, previously told The Oregonian. “We had an imperative to act.”
Representatives of Lift Every Voice Oregon did not respond to emails requesting an interview.
Gun sales surged after the measure passed late last year, with Oregon State Police fielding thousands of new background check requests each day.
Salem pawn shop owner Bryan Fitzgerald told Fox News he had trouble keeping guns on the shelves for a while. Firearms previously made up about 30% of his business at Elite Buyers NW but now account for 50-60% of sales, he estimates.
“Ballot Measure 114 really made everything just absolutely crazy,” he said.
Fitzgerald is closely watching the measure’s legal battles, though he admits he’s in a better position than many firearm dealers since his pawn shop has a diverse inventory ranging from jewelry and electronics to musical instruments and tools.
“If we were just a gun shop, I would be really, really scared,” he said. “I wish the people that were making laws about firearms weren’t anti-firearm.”
Much of the criticism of the measure centers around the permit system. Measure 114 requires that prospective gun buyers complete “in-person demonstration of the applicant’s ability to lock, load, unload, fire and store a firearm before an instructor certified by a law enforcement agency” — a much stricter process than what is currently required to obtain even a concealed handgun license in Oregon.
Police and sheriffs said in December there were no training programs in the state that satisfy all the permit requirements. While Oregon State Police did not respond to questions about whether such programs have been launched since then, Fitzgerald said he keeps in regular contact with law enforcement who have told him nothing has changed.
But Aiello won’t be able to mention that in court.
Circuit Judge Robert S. Raschio granted the state’s motion to exclude allegations that police would not be able to quickly process permits if Measure 114 is allowed to take effect because it would be pure speculation. The state further argued the measure “provides a clear, speedy remedy” if Oregonians encounter a delay or denial of their permits. Those whose permit applications are denied or not processed within 30 days can petition their local circuit court, according to the ballot measure text.
“I’m just not going to guess what the program is going to look like,” Raschio said, according to The Oregonian. “I find it persuasive that the case law says that you can’t speculate how a law is going to be applied,” he added, “and this law has never been applied to anyone.”
But Raschio also dealt a win to the gun owners, approving their motions to prohibit testimony on the success of other states’ permit-to-purchase programs in reducing shootings, the destructiveness of high-capacity magazines or victim testimony on the loss of loved ones from shootings.
The trial is expected to last through next Friday. Regardless of the outcome, Aiello said he thinks all sides in the debate expect the case to eventually reach the Oregon Supreme Court.
To hear more about the Measure 114 challenge, click here.
Ramiro Vargas contributed to the accompanying video.