Oregonian: Oregon Supreme Court decision could help gun control initiative

Posted June 08, 2018 at 03:15 PM | Updated June 11, 2018 at 10:22 AM

By Hillary Borrud

The Oregonian/OregonLive

An Oregon Supreme Court decision on Friday could fast-track efforts to get a gun-control initiative on the ballot.

The Portland-area clergy backing the effort to ban the sale of many semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines had worried that the state’s ballot title appeals process would leave them with little time to qualify for the November election.

Opponents of the proposal known as Initiative Petition 43 had appealed to the Supreme Court to modify the ballot title, saying the use of such terms as "assault weapons" and "large capacity magazines” is misleading.

But on Friday, the Supreme Court denied their requests for oral arguments – a decision that will likely speed up the court’s review of the ballot title. The court must sign off on the official ballot title before backers can begin gathering signatures.

Justices gave Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, whose lawyers wrote the ballot title, until June 18 to file “a single answering memorandum and ballot title packet that addresses all the consolidated petitions” for the opponents for review. Then opponents will then have three days to respond to the attorney general’s materials, presiding Justice Rives Kistler wrote.

Kristina Edmunson, communications director for Rosenblum, wrote in an email that the attorney general has offered to submit her brief by June 15.  

“We’re very pleased,” said Rabbi Michael Cahana, one of three chief petitioners for the ballot initiative. “We’re very excited to know that we can move exactly as we’d planned.”

The clergy are planning a massive signature-gathering campaign at houses of worship across the state the weekend of June 29 to July 1, which they’re calling "Signing Sabbath Weekend.” The campaign’s website is lifteveryvoiceoregon.com

The groups asking the court to modify the ballot title include the National Rifle Association, Oregon Hunters Association and Oregon Firearms Federation. Members of the hunters group referred a request for comment to their lawyer Shawn Lindsay, who said in his experience the Supreme Court “never has oral arguments on these petitions.” Lindsay declined to comment further. 

Edmunson also said the court rarely hears oral arguments on ballot title appeals and the Oregon Judicial Department’s acting deputy state court administrator Phil Lemman pointed to a state law requiring the court to act "expeditiously to ensure the orderly and timely circulation of the petition."

The initiative would ban the manufacture and sale of magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and firearms classified as assault weapons in Oregon starting in 2019. There would be an exemption for military and law enforcement employees who are required to carry firearms, plus the retailers and manufacturers who sell the weapons to those agencies. For everyone else, possession of the weapons would be a Class B felony unless they pass a criminal background check and register the firearms with the state.

Under the proposal, assault weapons would be defined as certain semiautomatic rifles and pistols that can accommodate detachable magazines and have other military-style features such as a collapsible stock or grenade launcher. The definition would also cover semiautomatic shotguns if they have fixed magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition or have other features such as the option for a detachable magazine.

Supporters of the initiative have until July 6 to gather more than 88,000 valid signatures.  

This story has been updated to reflect the following clarification: Possession of firearms defined as assault weapons and high capacity magazines would only be a Class B felony under the initiative if the owner failed to pass a criminal background check and register with the state.