Oregon gun background checks get 9-hour hearing

The Oregon Firearm Safety Act passed 17-13 in the Senate

A public hearing on expanded background checks for private sales was held in the Oregon House, April 22, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
A public hearing on expanded background checks for private sales was held in the Oregon House, April 22, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Oregon legislators held a rare marathon public hearing Wednesday on a bill expanding background checks to encompass nearly all private gun transfers.

Currently, background checks are needed to buy guns from licensed dealers but not for private, person-to-person transactions. Senate Bill 941 — passed by the Senate last week, and now being considered by the House — would change that.

Invited testimony took up the first two hours, followed by seven hours of public input in front of the House Committee on Rules.

“I own firearms and if I were to sell a firearm, as a responsible owner I would want to know the buyer wasn’t a criminal,” former Portland Police Chief Mike Reese said. “Senate Bill 941 creates an easy way for responsible gun owners to make sure their firearm doesn’t end up in the hands of a criminal used in the commission of a violent crime.”

The bill, the Oregon Firearm Safety Act, passed the Oregon Senate 17-13. It proposes to expand upon an existing law that requires background checks for gun sales at shows and by registered dealers, applying it to person-to-person sales as well.

Over a hundred people showed up to weigh in both for and against the bill.

“I hope that by sharing my story with you I can prevent other families from sitting here and having to tell you how their lives have been torn apart by gun violence,” Jenna Yuille said.

Yuille’s mother was killed in the Clackamas Town Center shooting. Paul Kemp, who was also at the hearing, said his brother-in-law was also a victim.

“Some will argue more gun laws will not stop all gun violence,” Kemp said. “To those folks I would say we have laws against murder, rape and robbery. Those laws don’t stop those events from happening.”

The proposed bill includes some exceptions on private sales between family members, law enforcement and certain temporary transfers.

Opponents argued the measure would do little to protect Oregonians, saying the background check system is fraught with errors. They said the only people affected by the legislation would be law abiding citizens.

“Criminals don’t obey laws and here we are trying to pass another law to get criminals to not obey a law,” Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice said. “It’s almost pointless.”

Some said it infringes on personal freedoms and fails to lower crime rates.

“No other item in Oregon has to be registered that way,” Frank Martin said. “You can sell a house without a license, you can sell a car without a license, but now a firearm you got to go through a background check.”

The House Rules Committee will now process the information in a work session scheduled for Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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