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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Oregon’s new gun law goes on trial

Opponents of Oregon's contentious gun control measure told a federal judge during the first day of trial Monday that it's unconstitutional.

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — As a trial over Oregon’s Measure 114 got underway on Monday, a federal judge heard testimony from the measure’s challengers and their experts on why the believe the state’s recent ban on high-capacity magazines should not be enforced.

Narrowly passed by Oregon voters last November, Measure 114 requires gun purchasers to obtain a permit, complete law enforcement-approved firearms training, submit their photo ID and fingerprints and pass a background check.

The measure also enforces a ban on high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds, which opponents of the measure say violates their right to bear arms under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. Such arguments began rolling in just weeks before the law was set to take effect on Dec. 8, 2022, as several lawsuits were filed.

In one of those suits, filed in state court, Harney County Judge Robert S. Raschio granted a temporary restraining order on Dec. 6, 2022, to two gun rights advocates and pro-gun organizations challenging the law, just hours after U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut, ruled against issuing a restraining order and a temporary injunction to do the same — although she did delay implementation of the law for 30 days to give authorities more time to implement the permit program.

Now Immergut is presiding over the trial of the consolidated federal lawsuits, which will determine whether the new law is constitutional.

As defendants Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and former state Governor Kate Brown failed to overturn Raschio’s order through the Oregon Supreme Court, the law remains blocked until the Harney County judge oversees his case’s trial this September.

Nevertheless, the parties in the consolidated federal lawsuits are fighting to convince Immergut of their view of the measure's constitutionality.

On Monday, attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants in the federal case opened the trial by presenting their witness panel. Daniel Nichols, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said he would present “three law-abiding citizens” along with two experts to show the measure’s permitting provisions and magazine ban violate the constitution.

Meanwhile, government attorneys Hannah Hoffman and Erin Dawson presented a variety of scholarly experts that they said would prove to the judge that the measure is consistent with the nation’s practices of firearm regulation. Those witnesses, along with those presented by attorney Zachary Pekelis for Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety, an intervenor defendant, will take the stand over the next four days.

Among those that testified Monday was lifelong Oregonian Jessica Harris, who works at G4 Archery in North Plains, Oregon. According to Harris, 50% of the store’s sales in 2020 encompassed firearms that hold over 10 rounds while of ammunition while this number increased to over 80% in 2021. In fact, Harris said the most popular magazine sold at G4 holds 30 rounds of ammunition and that customers interested in weapons for self-defense try to buy firearms that hold as many rounds as possible.

Harris also made the argument that Measure 114 fails to consider circumstances of animal attacks, situations involving more than one human attacker or even individuals that are high on meth with “raging adrenaline.” Plaintiff Sheriff Brad Lohrey made a similar case to the courtroom, stating that many farmers in Sherman County rely on AR-15 platforms to safeguard livestock while protecting themselves in a community with little police coverage and an influx of drug trafficking from Highway 97.

Should the measure go into effect, Lohrey said, he would no longer be able to protect himself using the police force’s Glock 45 off-duty or in retirement.

Lohrey said, stating that he has "honorably protected" his family "for over 30 years and I don’t want to stop protecting them.”

After each testimony, attorneys for the government and Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety took turns poking holes in each of the witness’ stories. One recipient of critical interrogation was firearm consultant Ashley Hlebinsky, who Nichols initially introduced as a firearms historian. After providing a lengthy account of personal history of studying and curating firearm exhibits for the Cody Firearms Museum — an affiliate of the Smithsonian national firearms collection that contains pre-industrial firearms holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition — Pekelis began his cross-examination by questioning her status as a historian without a PhD.

“You’ve never held the job title of a historian?” Pekelis asked. “You’ve never been officially labeled as a historian?”

Hlebinsky said no.

Pekelis also interrogated Hlebinksy’s past and present working relationships with plaintiffs of the case, her affiliation with a museum that regularly Tweets anti-gun regulation content or how some the highest paying donors to the museum are firearms companies. The attorney ended the cross examination by asking her whether she supported prohibitions of civilian purchases of large capacity magazines.

“I think its arbitrary,” Hlebinksy said, explaining earlier that she is merely there to be a neutral expert and that she is unaware of the data that led to such regulations in the first place. She was also unaware of the museum’s posts, she said.

Witness testimony will continue Tuesday.

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Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Law

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