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'Bad politics should not stand in the way of saving lives'

For decades, Oregon has made it unlawful for felons and other dangerous people to buy or possess guns. But criminal gun buyers don’t obey those laws. That’s why Oregon Senate Bill 1551 would require background checks for all private gun sales.

The 1994 Brady Law put an end to “lie and buy” gun purchases from gun dealers by requiring a background check before a dealer sells a gun. In 2000, Oregon voters closed one loophole by requiring background checks for sales at gun shows. But “lie and buy” has moved to Internet and other unregulated arenas, where sellers often advertise “no background check” gun sales. An estimated 40,000 to 75,000 guns are sold annually in Oregon without a background check.

Federal background checks have stopped more than 2.1 million prohibited purchasers — including felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill — from buying guns. Many states further reduce gun crimes with background checks on private and gun show sales. FBI statistics show that, in states requiring a background check for the sale of every handgun, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by an intimate partner and fewer law enforcement officers are injured by guns.

Oregon makes it easy — a comprehensive gun purchase background check costs only $10 and can be completed by phone. Typically, it takes the Oregon State Police less than five minutes to find out whether a potential buyer can or cannot lawfully own a gun. (The Oregon State Police Department testified at a Senate hearing this month that over 90 percent of those transactions have no records kept past 10 days.) Today, responsible Oregon gun sellers use background checks to ensure that the gun they are selling don’t end up in the wrong hands.

Some advocates asserted at the Senate hearing this month that they opposed Senate Bill 1551 because the people who fail background checks are not prosecuted. In response, a proposed amendment requires OSP to report to local law enforcement people who fail background checks because they cannot lawfully possess guns. Other groups supported the bill as part of responsible gun ownership and applauded the immunity it gives the seller when a background check is passed.

One senator told me that, even if it is good public policy, this is just a political bill. When the Oregon Pediatric Society and Oregon Public Health Association testify in support of a bill, it is good public policy. Bad politics should not stand in the way of saving lives.

Ginger Fitch is an attorney and resident of Wilsonville.




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