People are rushing to buy guns before the effective date of Oregon’s gun control measure 114.
The week of Oct. 30, state police received 8,609 requests for gun background checks on potential buyers. The following election week, Nov. 6, requests more than doubled to 18,065, according to Capt. Stephanie Bigman, a state police spokeswoman.
That has translated into an increased state police backlog in processing 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 to approve background checks has also doubled in the past 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 increased significantly in early 2020 and has been on the decline until this most recent election cycle,” said Capt. Kyle Kennedy, another state police spokesman.
Voters narrowly passed Measure 114 last Tuesday, which required a permit for Oregonians to purchase a handgun and imposed 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 volumes of firearms requests 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 potential gun buyers, down from 2020, when the state recorded the most, 418,061.
This year through Nov. 14, the state police have completed 280,552 background checks.
Under Measure 114, people who want to buy a handgun in Oregon must 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 valid for five years.
Every time a permit holder goes to buy a gun, the dealer must again obtain a completed and approved state police firearms background check on the person before turning the gun over.
Rules and funding to support the approval process and additional background checks have yet to be worked out, but proponents of Goal 114 are trying to work with state lawmakers and state police to create a committee or task force to address those details.
The Weapons Processing Unit has 30 employees – one manager, three supervisors and 26 full-time examiners. It has funding for 13 part-time censors and four part-time specialist doctors, but has only filled two of the censor positions and two of the specialist jobs.
Bigman said the agency is still evaluating staffing needs for the permit-to-buy program. State police are working with the Oregon Department of Justice and the state sheriff’s and police chiefs associations to determine what additional staffing, money and procedures they need to put the law in place.
When Measure 114 made the ballot, the State Police estimated they would need 38 new positions to handle the increased workload. In August, state police reported they were working to reduce a backlog of gun background checks due to a 2020 increase in gun sales.
Each processor in the device can complete 10,782 background checks per year, according to state police.
State police now believe the measure will go into effect sooner than its authors thought, based on advice from the secretary of state’s office. It is now December 8th, 30 days after it was “adopted or approved”.
Target 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 spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said the confusion may stem from this year’s change that allows ballots to be postmarked on Election Day, Nov. 8, and counted if they arrived within seven days of the election. That pushed the state’s deadline for the ballot to be officially certified back to Dec. 15, creating the unusual circumstance that a ballot’s effective date — Dec. 8 — fell before the ballot certification deadline.
“In previous years, these dates would have been 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 state police and others to “do everything they can” to get a permit-to-buy program in place, as is reasonably possible.
“We think the measure will save lives, so that’s very positive,” she said.
Regardless, she and Measure 114’s lead petitioners said they expect a legislative task force to be formed to iron out details that still need to be addressed, and they hope the governor can step in to delay the date of the effect of new law or the date that certain provisions of the measure can be “implemented” if necessary.
“We want it to be a fair and equitable system and be as clear as possible,” McKanna said of the permitting process.
Gov. Kate Brown’s spokesman said the governor does not have the authority to extend the effective date of the measure.
“As with past practice, the governor plans to sign the proclamation confirming 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 Dec. 8,” said Liz Merah, Brown’s spokeswoman.
The Oregon Firearms Federation, which opposed the measure, called the date the measure is now expected to go into effect, with no process to support a permit-to-purchase program, “insane even by Oregon standards,” in an e- email to federal support.
Measure 114 opponents fear that the measure will increase 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 fire, excuse the phrase,” said Tim Barnes, a federally licensed firearms dealer who owns the Tigard Pawn 4 More store. “They don’t have the staff or the equipment.”
Barnes sells guns, handles gun transfers as a licensed dealer, and holds guns as collateral for mortgages.
Trudi Lacasse, a representative for The Gun Room in Southeast Portland, said interested gun buyers, including people with concealed handgun licenses, are finding state police “queues are very high” to get a background check completed.
They have to wait a few weeks, she said. But no one leaves her store with a gun until they are cleared through a completed background check, she added.
Barnes spoke to The Oregonian/OregonLive this week when he handled a potential gun buyer at his pawn shop and told the customer, who has a concealed weapons 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 have to go in 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’s looked at by the state police and dealt with.”
Barnes said he doesn’t notice any concerted push to get magazines with more than 10 rounds. “Honestly, a lot of people are probably hanging on to them and 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, Ariz., said gun sales are heavily influenced by news headlines.
His stores saw significant increases in sales during the COVID-19 lockdown and during social unrest and protests following George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police in late May 2020, he said.
But he hasn’t seen anything like the call to arms in the past week.
“Human nature is when you can’t get 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. That’s record business.”
He said handgun sales are the most popular right now, but not necessarily handguns with magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, he said.
Durkheimer, whose family has owned the Northwest Armory for 30 years, said wait times for background checks have increased as a result.
He said he can’t imagine how the state police or county sheriffs will have an approval process in place before the measure’s effective date and expects a court challenge could put a hold on the new law.
If the effective date of the measure is not extended or suspended, Durkheimer said he expects, “We will be selling a lot of scopes and ammunition and 10-round magazines.”
— Maxine Bernstein
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