Oregon Judge’s Final Order Rules Gun Control Law Approved by Voters Unconstitutional
PORTLAND, Ore. — In a decision handed down by the presiding judge of the Circuit Court of Harney County in rural southeast Oregon- Judge Robert S. Raschio, the court ruled on Tuesday that Measure 114 of the voter-approved Oregon gun control law violates the state constitution. The effect of this is that the beleaguered measure is blocked from taking effect, casting fresh doubt over its future.
The judgment was among the first gun restriction measures to be considered after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June 2022 created new standards for judges weighing gun laws. When considering Second Amendment cases specific rules must now be followed by judges and this was part of the reasoning in Tuesday’s Arnold v Kotek (2023) hearing.
Raschio was the judge who initially blocked the measure from taking effect in December and the judgment is likely to be “the first opening salvo of multiple rounds of litigation,” according to a constitutional law professor at Willamette University, Norman Williams. It appears that the law will remain in place during the appeals process, although several different lawsuits over the measure have sparked confusion over whether it does.
The motion stems from a lawsuit filed by gun owners who alleged that the law violated the right to bear arms under the Oregon Constitution. Measure 114 requires gun owners to undergo a criminal background check and complete a gun safety training course to obtain a permit to buy a firearm and bans high-capacity magazines. A judge ruled in a different federal case in July over the Oregon measure, finding that it is lawful under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Because state courts can strike down a state law that violates the state constitution- even if it is allowed under the federal constitution, Raschio found the measure to be invalid under the Oregon Constitution during the state trial, effectively putting it on hold. As a result, Oregon officials would probably have to win in both state and federal court for the law to take effect.
During the Arnold v Kotek trial, the key issues were whether the permit-to-purchase provision would hamper people from exercising their right to bear arms, and if large-capacity magazines are used for self-defense- and therefore protected under the Oregon Constitution. The plaintiffs argued that firearms capable of firing multiple rounds were present in Oregon in the 1850s and those who ratified the state constitution were familiar with them. Conversely, the defense, argued that modern semi-automatic firearms were technologically distinct from the revolvers and multi-barrel pistols available in the 1850s.
Raschio disputed the defense’s further claim that banning large-capacity magazines could make mass shootings less deadly. Recognizing that mass shootings have a significant impact on the psyche of America, they rank very low in frequency in his opinion. The judge indicated that while in the minds of the general public- as a result of sensationalized media coverage, mass shootings are prolific and result in high levels of death and injury, there was no evidence supporting this view. He also found that 10-round magazine bans will not deter a mass shooter.
In a different federal ruling involving the Oregon law, U.S. District Judge Karin J. Immergut took note of the Supreme Court’s new directive and considered the history of gun regulations. Finding that large-capacity magazines are not commonly used for self-defense- and as a result, are not protected by the Second Amendment, she found that the measure’s restrictions are consistent with the country’s “history and tradition of regulating uniquely dangerous features of weapons and firearms to protect public safety.”
Noting that the Second Amendment allows law-abiding, responsible citizens to keep and bear arms, she found that the permit-to-purchase provision is constitutional. The Oregon Firearms Federation- the plaintiffs in this case, have appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
State to Appeal Oregon Measure 114 Ruling
The defendants in the Arnold v Kotek matter also include Oregon officials. Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, and State Police Superintendent Casey Codding could appeal to the Oregon Court of Appeals and eventually, this case could also go to the Oregon Supreme Court. AG Rosenblum plans to appeal the ruling, and her office emailed an official statement about this.
The AG believes that the Harney County judge’s ruling is wrong, and could put the lives of Oregonians at risk. Indicating that she believed that they would still prevail, she confirmed that the state would file an appeal. On the other side, Tyler Smith- attorney for the plaintiffs, welcomed the ruling and expressed the belief that the ill-conceived and unconstitutional ballot measure should not be defended.
According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, data shows that nine other states have similar permit-to-purchase laws, including New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Hawaii. Other than Oregon, 11 states limit large-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds. This includes California’s ban on higher-capacity magazines where a lower court’s September ruling found that the law is unconstitutional.