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JohnsonThe 2015 Oregon Legislature is shaping up to be one of contradictions — more gun control for those who obey the law, but possibly more government protection for those who have broken the law.


We’re about to increase background checks on private gun sales, which will do nothing to stop felons from continuing to illegally obtain and use firearms. At the same time, legislation has been proposed that would make it harder for an employer to do a criminal background check on felons.

If we don’t slow down and become more thoughtful, we’re going to pass some bad laws, and citizens will pay the price.

Last year, during the Legislature’s brief 35-day session, state Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) tried to rush approval of a gun control bill to expand background checks. He needed just one more vote, and I declined to give it. I didn’t think his bill would reduce crime. I wish all it took to change human behavior was passing legislation. It doesn’t work that way.

Prozanski is back this year with a similar bill, and this time he has the votes. That doesn’t mean he has a good bill.

His Senate Bill 941 requires that any time a private citizen sells or transfers a firearm, both the seller and buyer/recipient must go to a licensed gun dealer, and pay to have the buyer undergo a criminal background check.

On the face of it, this seems reasonable. Think about it, though. If you know you have a criminal history, you’ll bypass this law: Have somebody else buy a gun for you, or obtain one on the black market. It’s already against the law for ex-felons to possess a firearm. Yet how often do we read about ex-felons committing a crime, and they’re armed? It takes more than laws to disarm a criminal.

However, a law can disarm a non-criminal. Under the proposed legislation, a gun owner with no criminal history could find himself in violation if he loans a hunting rifle to a friend without a background check. On a first offense, the punishment could be one year in jail and/or a $6,250 fine. On a second offense, the punishment could reach 10 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.

Given Prozanski’s legislative history, I have to ask: Does he really want to go after violent felons? Or does he want to cause problems for legitimate gun owners?

Two years ago, Prozanski served on the governor’s Commission on Public Safety, where he worked on House Bill 3194.

He pushed unsuccessfully to reduce the sentences for some robbery, assault and sexual abuse crimes.

Even more revealing, Prozanski wanted to expand expungement — a way for felons to wipe clean their criminal history to help them find housing and employment. Now here he is sponsoring a bill that requires background checks on gun purchases. What good does it do to require background checks if you’re also helping felons rewrite their criminal records?

There are aspects of his gun bill that are worthy — for example, prohibiting persons undergoing court-ordered outpatient treatment from possessing a firearm.

However, confidentiality laws make it difficult to even reveal who is mentally ill. The bill does nothing to protect the public from a person whose mental illness expresses itself in violence.

The overriding intent of Prozanski’s bill is not directed at violent behavior, but at making gun ownership more inconvenient for the law-abiding.

Nevertheless, it will pass and will be trumpeted as making the public safer.

Meanwhile, the bill assisting ex-felons in the job market makes for a curious counterpoint. If you support Prozanski’s gun bill, take note. Say you’re an employer and you also hate guns. You may find yourself unwittingly offering a job to someone who has committed armed robbery.

House Bill 3025, also called the “ban-the-box law” because of the box on some job applications asking if an applicant has a criminal record, would restrict how private employers can interview job applicants.

The ban-the-box bill has had a hearing before the House Business & Labor Committee, where advocates for ex-felons and prisoner’s rights were well organized with their testimony.

If it doesn’t pass this session, like Prozanski’s gun bill, it will likely come around again.

State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) represents Senate District 16, which includes much of western Washington County.

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