People are rushing to buy guns before the effective date of Oregon’s gun control Measure 114.
The week of Oct. 30, the state police received 8,609 requests for gun background checks on prospective buyers. In the following election week of Nov. 6, the requests more than doubled to 18,065, according to Capt. Stephanie Bigman, a state police spokesperson.
That has translated to an increased state police backlog in processing the requested background checks and customers waiting longer to walk out of a store with a firearm, according to state police and gun shop owners.
The number of people waiting for state police approval on background checks also has doubled in the last two weeks, from 10,000 to about 20,000, as voters cast ballots on one of the nation’s strictest gun control measures.
“Our backlog significantly rose in the beginning of 2020 and has been trending down until this recent election cycle,” said Capt. Kyle Kennedy, another state police spokesperson.
Voters narrowly passed Measure 114 last Tuesday, requiring a permit for Oregonians to buy a gun and instituting a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
State police have approved about 63% of the requests received so far this month, they said.
“This unit has been working through these extreme firearms request volumes and will continue to process them as quickly as possible,” state police said in a statement Wednesday.
Last year, Oregon State Police conducted 338,330 background checks on prospective gun buyers, a drop from 2020, when the state recorded the most, 418,061.
This year through Nov. 14, the state police have conducted 280,552 background checks.
Under Measure 114, people who want to buy a gun in Oregon will have to apply to a county sheriff for a permit, pay the $65 fee, provide their fingerprints, complete gun safety training and undergo a criminal background check. The permit will be good for five years.
Each time a permit holder goes to buy a gun, the dealer again must obtain a completed and approved state police firearms background check on the person before turning over the gun.
Rules and funding to support the permitting process and additional background checks have yet to be worked out, but Measure 114 proponents are trying to work with state lawmakers and state police to create a committee or working group to address these details.
The firearms processing unit has 30 staff members — one manager, three supervisors and 26 full-time examiners. It has funding for 13 part-time examiners and four part-time specialists, but has filled only two of the examiner positions and two of the specialist jobs.
Bigman said the agency is still evaluating staffing needs for the permit-to-purchase program. State police are working with the Oregon Department of Justice and the state sheriffs’ and police chiefs’ associations to determine what extra staffing, money and procedures they need to put the law into place.
When Measure 114 made the ballot, state police estimated then that they would need 38 new positions to handle the increased workload. In August, the state police reported that they were working to reduce a backlog of gun background checks due to an increase in gun sales from 2020.
Each processor in the unit can complete 10,782 background checks a year, according to the state police.
State police now believe the measure will go into effect earlier than its drafters thought, based on advice from the Secretary of State’s Office. That’s now Dec. 8, 30 days from when it was “enacted or approved.”
Measure 114′s drafters said they were led to believe the effective date would be 30 days from Dec. 15, the deadline for the vote to be certified.
Ben Morris, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the confusion may have stemmed from this year’s change allowing ballots to be post-marked on Election Day Nov. 8 and counted if they arrived within seven days of the election. That pushed back the state deadline for the vote to be officially certified to Dec. 15, creating the unusual circumstance of having a ballot measure’s effective date — Dec. 8 — fall before the deadline for vote certification.
“In previous years, those dates would have lined up,” Morris said.
Liz McKanna, a member of the legislative committee for the Lift Every Voice Oregon campaign, said it’s now up to the state police and others to “do everything they can” to get a permit-to-purchase program in place as is reasonably possible.
“We believe the measure will save lives so that’s very positive,” she said.
Regardless, she and Measure 114′s chief petitioners said they anticipate a legislative workgroup will be formed to clear up details that still need to be addressed, and would hope the governor could step in to delay the date the new law takes effect or the date that certain provisions of the measure can be “implemented,” if needed.
“We want it to be a fair and equitable system and to be as clear as possible,” McKanna said, of the permitting process.
Gov. Kate Brown’s spokesperson said the governor doesn’t have the authority to extend the date the measure takes effect.
“As with past practice, the Governor plans to sign the proclamation certifying the election when she receives it from the Secretary of State. Our understanding is that we should receive it from the Secretary of State’s office on December 8,” said Liz Merah, Brown’s spokesperson.
The Oregon Firearms Federation, which opposed the measure, called the date the measure is now anticipated to take effect, without any process to support a permit-to-purchase program, “insane even by Oregon standards,” in an email to federation supporters.
Measure 114 opponents fear the measure will increase the background check backlog and cause unnecessary delays for people who can legally buy a gun and want to protect themselves
State police are “hopelessly under gunned, pardon the phrase,” said Tim Barnes, a federal firearms licensed dealer who owns the Tigard Pawn 4 More shop. “They don’t have the staff or the equipment.”
Barnes sells guns, handles gun transfers as a licensed dealer and holds guns as collateral against pawn loans.
Trudi Lacasse, a representative of The Gun Room in Southeast Portland, said interested gun buyers, including people with concealed handgun licenses, are finding the state police “queue is very high” to get a completed background check.
They’re having to wait a couple of weeks, she said. But nobody leaves her shop with a gun until they’re approved through a completed background check, she added.
Barnes spoke to The Oregonian/OregonLive this week as he was processing a prospective gun buyer at his pawn shop and telling the customer, who has a concealed handgun license, that he was No. 2,182 in line on the state police list for a firearms background check.
“It’s like if you’re waiting to see a Led Zeppelin concert, to get in to see him you’ve got to get through the door,” Barnes said. “This guy is the 2,182nd person in line stretching out into the parking lot before he gets to the door, before he gets looked at by state police and processed.”
Barnes said he’s not noticing any concerted push to obtain magazines holding more than 10 rounds. “Frankly, a lot of people are probably hanging on to them, just waiting to see what happens,” he said.
Karl Durkheimer, whose family owns two Northwest Armory stores in Milwaukie and Tigard and one in Scottsdale, Arizona, said gun sales are greatly affected by headlines in the news.
His shops saw significant increases in sales during the COVID-19 lockdown and during social unrest and protests after George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police in late May 2020, he said.
But he’s seen nothing like the clamor for guns the past week.
“Human nature is when you can’t have something you want it more,” he said. “The Wednesday after this Election Day passed our biggest day. The Thursday after the Election passed that Wednesday. It’s record business.”
He said handgun sales are the most popular right now, yet not necessarily handguns with magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, he said.
Durkheimer, whose family has owned Northwest Armory for 30 years, said the wait time for background checks has increased as a result.
He said he can’t conceive how state police or county sheriffs will have a permitting process in place by the measure’s effective date and expects a court challenge to put a hold on the new law.
If the effective date of the measure isn’t extended or put on hold, Durkheimer said he anticipates, “We will be selling a lot of binoculars and ammunition and 10-round magazines.”
— Maxine Bernstein
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