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Battle on to block voter-backed gun restrictions in Oregon

Supporters tout Oregon Measure 114 as the strictest set of gun laws in the country.

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Attorneys for Oregon and opponents of voter-approved gun restrictions argued for and against a block of the measure before a federal judge Friday, days before the law is set to take effect.

Measure 114 passed with 50.7% of the vote in November and is often touted as the strictest set of gun laws the nation. The measure requires residents to obtain a permit from law enforcement to purchase firearms, complete safety training and pass a criminal background check.

But what appears to upset opponents the most is the measure's prohibition on “high-capacity magazines,” defined as holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The first lawsuit came from Oregon Firearms Federation, Sherman County Sherriff Brad Lohrey and Adam Johnson, who claim the measure infringes their Second and 14th Amendment rights to bear arms and defend themselves. They asked for a preliminary injunction on the measure before it takes effect on Dec. 8.

“Ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds are ubiquitous in the United States, coming standard with approximately half of all firearms sold and in use today,” the plaintiffs say in their lawsuit. Their attorney John Kaempf doubled down on the claim at the hearing Thursday, repeatedly noting the majority of gun owners possess firearms well over 10-round capacities.

The plaintiffs say banning magazines larger than 10 rounds will not only deprive citizens of possessing “common use” guns for self-defense, but will also dispossess magazine owners of their property without compensation and retroactively criminalize them in violation of their right to bear arms.

The plaintiffs filed an emergency motion for a preliminary injunction, and U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut responded on Thanksgiving Day by ordering a hearing for Dec. 2.

Since then, more lawsuits have been filed. Lawyers for those plaintiffs appeared via Zoom on Friday as well.

While the room was packed and the arguments were long, Judge Immergut wasted no time with her questions. One of the main topics up for debate was whether 10-round magazines can be considered “firearms” under the Second Amendment and if Oregon’s permit process truly infringes plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

Kaempf argued that under Columbia v. Heller, high-capacity magazines are firearms, while Oregon's attorney Harry Wilson said the plaintiffs bear the burden to prove a 10-round magazine is a firearm. Wilson cited cases in which courts have concluded a high-capacity magazine is not a firearm because it is less useful for self-defense than it is for war. However, if plaintiffs could prove 10-round magazines were firearms, Wilson said it would be constitutional injury.

To Immergut’s question of constitutionality, Kaempf noted several examples of precedent that turned away limits on firearm access and reminded the judge of her judicial limitations to restrict gun ownership.

Immergut asked the plaintiffs' attorneys for evidence supporting that 10-round magazines are useful for self-defense. Kaempf cited the experience of an individual’s deposition. Wilson argued that's something to be proven at trial.

After further rebuttals, Immergut said she would decide by Monday or Tuesday whether to temporarily block the law. The question of whether the measure is constitutional will be decided later.

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