Monday, May 4, marked a contentious day in the Capitol. The House voted on Senate Bill 941, the bill that requires universal background checks for firearms transfers in the state of Oregon. Currently, eight jurisdictions in the United States require a background check to be conducted prior to any firearms transfer, including those between private citizens and at gun shows.  Washington state is one, having just passed Initiative 594 in December.  Some of these states have additional requirements, such as waiting periods, assault weapons bans, and magazine capacity restrictions.

(Image is Clickable Link) Rep. Brad Witt Oregon’s SB 941 requires all private transferors of firearms to appear in person before a gun dealer so that the a criminal background check can be conducted prior to the transfer. Violation of this requirement would constitute a Class A misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class B felony for the second and subsequent offenses. The bill was modified to include exceptions for family members, law enforcement, inherited firearms and certain temporary transfers. It also allows the court to prohibit a person who is participating in outpatient mental health treatment during the period of treatment to obtain a firearm.

The bill has excited many in my district, and we have had hundreds of calls and easily as many emails. The calls have been just about evenly split as to how folks would like me to vote. I want to be clear that I believe that background checks are important in terms of keeping guns away from criminals. There are many cases where sales have been prevented by a completed background check, and I have personally witnessed someone being hauled off in handcuffs when the purchaser failed to pass the background check.

After much thought and due diligence, however, I ended up voting against SB 941 and the undemocratic process that surrounded its passage. The Expanded Background Check Bill, as SB 941 was known, had a number of flaws that could easily have been fixed with some relatively simple amendments. Significantly, some of the proposed amendments would have not only improved SB 941, they would have also been responsive to the public’s testimony on the bill.

But this was never to be the case given the proponents’ refusal to accept amendments to the bill. I personally wrote each Rules Committee Member requesting that the bill be amended with the following three exemptions:  

Exempt those who had already been approved for a concealed handgun license (CHL)

Exempt those who hold licenses from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and firearms to buy and sell

Exempt those who participate in the Civilian Marksmanship Program, a program created and approve by Congress

None of these amendments, proposed on behalf of a concerned public, was even considered. For me, the process that surrounded SB 941 marked a low point in my decade-long legislative experience.

Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, represents House District 31.

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