A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Gun bill hearing raises questions

Written April 1st, 2015 by Hasso Hering
It's a wonder the Capitol doesn't drift away with all the hot air generated within.

It’s a wonder the Capitol doesn’t drift away with all the hot air generated within.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee heard from dozens of people Wednesday and received many more statements for and against expanded background checks for gun purchases. But the main questions remain unanswered and new ones were raised.

Senate Bill 941 would require someone who wants to sell a gun to another private party to get a federally licensed firearms dealer to conduct a background check on the buyer. (Family members would be exempt, and so would loans of guns.) So, one new question: Would dealers be required to perform this task?

One dealer told the committee in written testimony he would refuse to perform background checks for private sellers because doing so would take his time and cost him sales. He also claimed that the background check via the state police sometimes takes hours (which has not been my experience), and he wrote that some buyers had been rejected on the grounds they had unpaid library fines and parking tickets. Others were rejected, according to him, because their names were mistaken for felons or others not entitled to buy a gun.

The legislature does not require that testimony be sworn, although this witness’ written submission said it was a sworn statement. If any of his assertions are true, the background check system needs beefing up.

In all the testimony, I could find nothing like a factual foundation for the proposed legislation. The mayor of Portland, who supports the bill, provided a presentation complete with photo illustrations of weapons seized from criminals. His point was that criminals now get guns. But the crucial point was missing: Did they buy them from law-abiding citizens who would not have sold them if a background check had been in effect?

Also missing from the thousands of words submitted to the committee: How many private-party sales are there in Oregon? Witnesses claimed the added work load would overwhelm the already swamped state police section performing NICS background checks. So legislators ought to get at least a reliable estimate before they act.

The logic of the bill is not affected by the fact that criminals obviously evade the existing system of background checks and would likewise ignore its expansion. The logic is that if we’re going to get at least a rough idea whether somebody is entitled to buy a gun before he can buy one, then why impose the requirement on some sales but not  others?

The state constitution does not say proposed new laws have to be based on facts, but we could save ourselves a lot of argument if it did and they were. (hh)

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