Measure 114, a Voter-Approved Gun Safety Law, Has Been Ruled as Violating the State Constitution by Oregon Judge
When it comes to United States law, Americans tend to take all things enshrined within the Constitution as completely set in stone. This also extends to state constitutions. However, what happens when the majority of voters vote to put in place a law that apparently goes against the state constitution?
Measure 114 was a set of parameters revolving around gun safety that was passed recently. It would require anyone who intends to purchase a firearm to take a safety course and pass a subsequent test. They would then receive a permit that is required to make a purchase. It would also require background checks for purchases of magazines holding over ten rounds of ammunition.
Whether or not you voted for it doesn’t change the fact that it still passed, albeit by a slim margin, but it passed all the same. And yet, on Tuesday, Harney County Circuit Court Judge Robert Raschio ruled that Measure 114 violates the Oregon constitution.
Although the provisions had been passed in November of 2022, they had been blocked from going into effect by Raschio in December until a full trial could commence. With the new ruling after a six-day trial in September, these laws are now unable to go into effect unless the decision is overturned by a higher state court. There has been a request for an appeal, but until we are able to get a ruling from a higher court, the law will stay blocked.
If you’re curious as to the reason for this ruling, the judge made sure to make his thoughts known afterwards. “Oregon citizens have a right to self defense against an imminent threat of harm, which is unduly burdened by Ballot Measure 114,” said Raschio in relation to the ruling.
Given that a majority of voters had chosen otherwise, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there was some pushback. Most notably was Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who said, “The Harney County judge’s ruling is wrong. Worse, it needlessly puts Oregonians’ lives at risk. The state will file an appeal and we believe we will prevail.”
Gun safety laws are already a hot topic in the United States. You don’t have to look very far to see a heated debate over it in the courts, on the news, and even with family. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone when the new measure was challenged almost immediately in both federal and state courts. However, there are still judges on the side of the majority. US District Judge Karin Immergut ruled the law as being completely legal under the US Constitution. Just like the Raschio decision, though, Immergut’s ruling has also been appealed to the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Neither of the appeals should come as a surprise. When such a controversial set of provisions is passed, you can expect a back and forth of yes and no until the Supreme Court is eventually beckoned.
If you’re wondering how this all started, it actually came from two men who sued the state in order to block Measure 114. Lawyers for these two men called in witnesses who testified and gave information about some of the more advanced firearms they had back in the 19th century.
One of these testimonies came from a former curator at the Cody Firearms Museum in Wyoming named Hlebinsky. She testified that, although rare within the United States, many early firearms were capable of firing multiple rounds without having to be reloaded. In fact, there were several makes and models that held over ten rounds, with some even using magazine-style feeding devices.
Hlebinsky’s testimony was considered one that Judge Raschio found particularly convincing. However, Judge Immergut could not have disagreed more.
“Ms. Hlebinsky lacks background and training as a historian,” she’d said, making her feelings clear when discussing why she believed the measure to be completely constitutional. “More troubling to this Court, Ms. Hlebinsky has both professional and personal ties to pro-gun groups and the firearms industry, which this Court finds limit her ability to serve as a neutral expert in this case.”
Hlebinsky isn’t the only one having their testimony in the case, however. Attorneys for the Oregon Department of Justice defended these new provisions and even called in two professors who were very knowledgeable in the history of firearms back in the 18th and 19th centuries. According to these two professors, while the united states (both in colonial times and after independence) were well-armed, perhaps even the most well-armed society in the world. However, firearms holding multiple rounds were “extremely uncommon”.
“Semiautomatic technology and automatic technology are such profound ruptures in the history of firearms technology,” said Bryan Delay, a history professor with extensive knowledge in the arms trade in Revolutionary War Era America from the University of California, Berkeley, “that I find it very difficult to believe that anybody — even someone very well informed — in the late 1850s could have predicted the emergence of smokeless powder, detachable cartridges, automatic reloading.”
Three more testimonials came from two sheriffs and the Oregon State Police Superintendent. They testified for the plaintiffs against the new laws, stating how important high capacity-magazines were. There were objections from the state’s attorney’s, however, due to the fact that law enforcement were exempt from the ban. However, Raschio still took their testimonies into account.
Harney County Sheriff Dan Jenkins and Union County Sheriff Cody Bowen had testified that their jurisdictions covered large areas, and because of that, their response times can be lengthy. This has often resulted in civilians relying on themselves and their firearms for vital defense. This is also extended to wild animals, where they’ve needed to protect their family and their livestock from an assortment of dangerous predators.
Raschio agreed with Bowen, saying that the sheriff had shown that civilians could not rely on law enforcement to respond swiftly enough for their needs. Victims can be left without a law enforcement response for hours,” he stated after the ruling. “A citizen’s need to protect themselves, their loved ones and their property is immediate as there is no one else will be there to do it for them.”
There were also testimonies from Dr. Michael Siegel, who had studied the effectiveness of firearms Laws around the United States. Raschio and Siegel had a tense back and forth during the doctor’s testimony, as Siegel had stated that firearm homicides had increased by 310% since 2001, and that the casualties in mass shootings had more than doubled if a high capacity magazine was involved.
Raschio readily argued, saying that people killed in mass shootings were far lower in comparison to the media’s sensationalized coverage of these events. He considered Siegel’s findings to not be scientific under Oregon evidence laws unless Siegel could prove the new laws would lead to fewer gun deaths.
As you can see, back and forths were aplenty within the court. The ruling has been made, and now we just have to see where the appeal goes. In my opinion, even if it is ruled in favor or against, we can expect yet another appeal in the future.