The future of one of the toughest gun control laws in the nation could be determined within the next couple of months.
Lawyers this week finished making their arguments in the state trial surrounding Measure 114, which voters narrowly passed in November.
Harney County Circuit Court Judge Robert S. Raschio, who put the implementation of the measure on hold while the court case advanced, will have 60 days to decide whether the measure violates the state constitution and if it should ever go into effect.
Measure 114 requires Oregonians to apply for and obtain a permit before purchasing a gun. It outlaws large-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition unless owned by law enforcement or military members or purchased before the law’s passage. The law also creates a statewide firearms database.
Arguments for and against the ballot measure took six days. It included testimony from historians, researchers, law enforcement, gun owners, gun manufacturers and a physician.
Tony Aiello Jr., the attorney representing the Oregon gun owners who filed the lawsuit, repeated in his closing statement that the case is not about public health, public safety or public concern but instead about the individual right to self-defense and the right to bear arms and “how that right will fare against the might of the Oregon State government.”
Aiello Jr. said testimony will have shown that the need that provided the original justification for Oregon’s right to bear arms in Article 1 Section 27 of the state constitution “is just as crucial today” as it was when the state’s constitution was first enacted in 1857.
“More importantly, plaintiffs have shown that these individual rights still matter and that there are still Oregonians willing to go to bat for those rights in court against the might of the state,” Aiello said.
The two gun owners suing the state in the case, Joseph Arnold and Cliff Asmussen, were among the first to testify.
Both spoke of their experience owning and collecting firearms and their desire to continue purchasing guns.
Sheriffs of rural Union and Harney counties provided testimony of their preference and use of large-capacity magazines for self-defense against coyotes, wolves, bears and other dangers.
They testified about their experience with law enforcement being unable to always quickly reach those who need help and said their deputies carry several magazines and at least 50 rounds for the protection of their communities.
State attorneys argued the relevance of their testimony at times, pointing to Measure 114’s exemption for law enforcement officers.
Their testimony provided evidence of safety and self-defense concerns for rural Oregonians who are sometimes hours away from responding law enforcement, Aiello told the court.
He asked Raschio to strike down “each and every section, subsection and syllable” of Measure 114 and declare it unconstitutional in its entirety.
Testimony also came from the former Cody Firearms Museum curator despite objections from the state. They argued that Ashley Hlebinsky was not an “expert” historian, was without formal training or peer-reviewed research, and pointed to the determination in the federal trial that Hlebinsky did not qualify as an expert.
Raschio, however, said he did not care about the other courts’ determination and allowed Hlebinsky to testify on the history of firearms made.
Hlebinsky testified about models of firearms capable of firing multiple rounds throughout early U.S. history as part of the effort to argue the new law contradicts the intent of the authors of the state constitution.
During cross-examination, she did add that those models were only available in Europe, limited in the United States and that advertisements she observed were printed on the East Coast.
The state called on its own historians, Southern Oregon University anthropology professor Mark Tveskov and University of California Berkley history professor Bryan DeLay, to argue that firearms available in the U.S. and in the state during the 1850s were most commonly single-shot, smoothbore flintlocks, shotguns, Colt revolvers and pepperbox handguns and not firearms holding more than 10 rounds.
The Oregon Court of Appeals has previously ruled that military firearms are not protected under the Oregon constitution. State attorneys also argued the testimony proved drafters of the Oregon Constitution could not have envisioned in the 1800s that there would be firearms with more than 10 rounds that were commonly used for self-defense.
In his closing argument, Senior Assistant Attorney General Harry B. Wilson said the Oregon Supreme Court has consistently upheld legislators’ ability to enact “reasonable regulations” to further public safety as long as those regulations do not “unduly frustrate the individual right to bear arms.”
The measure is a valid public safety response to mass shootings, Wilson added.
He argued that testimony provided by plaintiffs failed to prove large-capacity magazines are necessary or commonly used in self-defense and said that instead, some plaintiff witnesses had testified about their use of guns with 10 rounds or less.
“The limited anecdotal evidence plaintiffs provided must be weighed against Mr. (Jorge) Baez’s statistical evidence showing that individuals on average need to only fire about 2.3 rounds in self-defense,” Wilson said.
Baez represented a firm that examined self-defense data from the National Rifle Association’s Armed Citizen defense data.
While Raschio must issue a ruling within 60 days, he told attorneys he hoped to make his decision sooner.
“I want to make sure I make the right decision,” Raschio said.
The case, however, will likely not end there. The losing side is expected to appeal, meaning the case would next move to the Oregon Supreme Court.