A gun law that some have called the most restrictive in the nation was ruled constitutional by a U.S. District Court judge last week, leaving gun rights advocates shocked.
Measure 114, which passed as a ballot amendment after receiving 50.6 percent of votes, limits magazine capacity to 10 rounds. Those who own guns with a larger magazine capacity would have to prove that they purchased the guns before Measure 114 was implemented. The law also requires that citizens must obtain a permit before purchasing a gun. In order to receive a permit, a person must go through an arduous process including:
Measure 114 was challenged in court by guns rights groups, and in December, judges handed down opposing rulings. U.S. District Court Judge Karin Immergut ruled that the ban could go into effect; hours later Harney County Judge Robert Raschio blocked the law.
Last week Immergut delivered another win for the state, ruling that the law is in step with the U.S. tradition of “regulating uniquely dangerous features of weapons and firearms to protect public safety.”
Immergut also granted the state a victory when she refused to look at the permitting process, saying that any potential harm was in the future and “unripe,” choosing instead to focus on the 10-round magazine restriction. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen last summer, the permitting process would have almost certainly been ruled unconstitutional.
Immergut ruled that at the time of America’s founding, the term “magazine” referred to ammunition depots and cartridge boxes, which held rounds, were labeled “accoutrements” and not considered to be “arms.”
She claimed that while magazines are required to operate a firearm, magazines holding more than 10 rounds “are never necessary to render firearms operable.”
The state argued that Measure 114 would reduce mass shootings, violence committed with guns, and suicides.
Immergut wrote that gun violence increased greatly in the early- and mid-19th century and that governments responded by passing regulations to “address the particular features of the weapons that made them most dangerous to public safety.”
The Oregon Firearms Association, the first plaintiff in the suit, was both outraged and baffled at Immergut’s decision but plan to appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. They stated,
“Today, Judge Karin Immergut ruled against gun owners, the Second Amendment and a basic understanding of the English language and ruled that Ballot Measure 114 is just fine. What we have read defies belief. While not entirely unexpected, Immergut’s ruling is simple nonsense and sure to be overturned at the 9th circuit.”
The statement continued,
“We are sure there will be plenty of parsing of this absurd decision in the coming days, but it was clear from the very first day that Immergut was both painfully ignorant and in the pocket of Oregon’s far left ‘Department of Justice. No doubt it took this long for her to come up with a reason to reach this conclusion when none of the facts were on her side.”
Immergut’s decision to rule on the 10-round magazine limitation and theory that any harm caused by the permitting process is future is odd considering the Supreme Court’s decision in Bruen almost certainly would render Oregon’s permit process unconstitutional. In the Bruen decision the Court ruled that New York’s permit process, which mandated that those seeking to carry a firearm must show cause that they needed to, violated the Second Amendment. The Court concluded,
“The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not ‘a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees. We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need. That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him. And it is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.”
What other right guaranteed by the Bill of Rights requires you to pay a fee, undergo mental health evaluation, have your photograph and fingerprints taken and stored in a database, present identification, or take a safety course in order to be allowed to exercise that right? Would those who advocate for such stringent requirements not be appalled at the sole requirement that a potential voter produce identification in order to vote?
Immergut’s reasoning regarding the supposed tradition of regulating firearms is also suspect. The Supreme Court already addressed this, writing of New York’s attempt at similar arguments, “Finally, respondents point to the slight uptick in gun regulation during the late-19th century. As the Court suggested in Heller, however, late-19th-century evidence cannot provide much insight into the meaning of the Second Amendment when it contradicts earlier evidence.”
While the question of the magazine restriction will be determined by courts, the permit process should have been deemed unconstitutional. Americans have the right to self-defense and simply because 50.6 percent of voters decided to give away much of that right does not make it constitutional. The beauty of the American system is not a democracy where the fickle whims of a slight majority have the final say but rather that it is a republic governed by the Constitution, which safeguards the inalienable, God-given rights of Americans and limits the ability of the government to infringe on those rights.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.