Gov. Kate Brown is the final stop for the Oregon Legislature's major gun legislation of 2021.
The Senate voted Wednesday, May 5, to accept the House version of a bill that combines requirements for locks and safe storage of firearms with a narrowed ban on concealed-handgun license holders bringing firearms into some public places.
The vote was 17-7. Sen. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose was the lone Democrat to join six Republicans in opposition to the revised Senate Bill 554. Five Republicans and one independent were recorded as excused or absent.
Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Democrat from Eugene and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the bill follows the principles laid out by a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The court for the first time concluded there was an individual right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but that right can be regulated.
"What we do know is that reasonable regulations can be placed on these individual rights we have," Prozanski said. "The bottom line is that we have a bill that does in fact address certain areas that we feel as a state need to be regulated."
Oregon would join 11 other states with some form of requirements for locks and safe storage of firearms, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
As for the narrower scope of the ban on guns in some public places, Prozanski said it was a compromise. The original Senate version would have left it to all local governments to decide restrictions for themselves. The final version limits the option to school districts, community colleges and state universities. The option for cities, counties and special districts was removed.
The ban still applies to the Capitol in Salem and the passenger terminal at Portland International Airport.
As a state representative in 1995, Prozanski voted for a law that pre-empts local governments from regulating firearms, other than discharging them in public. "But I will tell you that even though I thought it was the best decision I could make at that time, today is a different day," he said.
State of Safety Action, a nonprofit that advocates prevention of gun violence, issued a statement of support after the vote. "Safe storage saves lives, helping prevent unintentional shootings and firearm suicides," Henry Wessinger, the group's president, said. "It will make it harder for potential school shooters to obtain a gun, and it will support responsible gun ownership."
Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod of Lyons took issue not only with the restrictions but also the process that allowed the House to merge its safe-storage bill with the original Senate version, which dealt with firearms in public places.
"This is an example of how bad this building can get," he said. "We were locked out of the process in this bill."
But like his counterpart in the House, Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby, Girod also took issue with the way some gun rights advocates lobbied in opposition to it. The Senate's March 25 vote on the original version prompted threats against some Republican senators, and a recall effort aimed at Girod, because they did not walk out to call a halt to Senate business.
"There is a fringe group out there that is sure not welcome in my office," Girod said. "It is not OK to threaten people's lives, their staff. It's not an appropriate way to lobby."
Other Republicans opposed the bill.
"It clearly infringed on the right to people's self-defense," Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend said after the vote. "I voted to support women and minorities in my district who want the opportunity for self-defense for themselves and their families as the Oregon Constitution allows for."
Sen. Lynn Findley of Vale spoke at length against it.
"This bill is not about gun violence, but about a fear of guns," he said.
Key provisions of the revised Senate Bill 554:
• Guns must have trigger or cable locks, be stored in a locked container or in a gun room. An offense is a Class C violation, which carries a maximum fine of $500, unless someone under age 18 obtains access, in which case it is a Class A violation with a maximum fine of $2,000. No jail time is imposed for violations.
• Stolen firearms must be reported to police, generally within 72 hours.
• Initial filing fees for concealed-handgun licenses are increased from $50 to $100, and for renewals, from $50 to $75.
• The Oregon Capitol and the Portland airport passenger terminal are off-limits to all firearms, including those borne by holders of concealed-handgun licenses, except for law enforcement. (The bill specifies airport terminals with annual passenger counts of 1 million; Eugene and Medford were at those thresholds in 2019 prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Sponsors say that the ban applies only to Portland.) Violations are considered Class A misdemeanors with maximum punishments of one year in jail and a fine of $6,250.
• Firearms bans for license holders are optional at the discretion of the governing boards of Oregon's 197 school districts, 17 community colleges, seven state universities and Oregon Health & Science University. Notices must be posted online, and at entrances to buildings and grounds.
• The final version removes optional bans by cities, counties and special districts. Firearms bans already apply to state courts, which often are in buildings maintained by counties.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.