Gun Control

Oregon Cracks Down on Gun Rights in the Name of Suicide Prevention

A newly passed bill in the state would let cops and judges decide who can exercise their Second Amendment rights.


Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
Bill Morrow/Flickr

The Oregon legislature just passed a gun control measure that substantially weakens constitutional rights. Senate Bill 719 will allow a family member or a police officer to obtain a civil court order immediately stripping someone of the right to possess a firearm for up to a year, if a judge finds the person presents a danger to himself or others.

Proponents hail the law as an effective way to prevent suicides. Sen. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas) argues that it will bring the number of veteran suicides down. Gun control crusader Gabrielle Giffords has called it a "responsible bill that helps keep guns out of the hands of individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis."

Paul Phillips, president of the group Oregon Gun Owners, retorts that the bill does little to prevent suicides but does deprive gun owners of basic constitutional protections. Gun confiscations under SB 719 will be "based on hearsay evidence alone, and the firearm owner is not privy to a fair trial," he says.

According to the bill, any law enforcement officer and family member—including partners, siblings, or even roommates—can request a hearing with a judge to get a "extreme risk protection order." If issued, this would prohibit a person from possessing or purchasing a firearm.

At that hearing, which has to be held within one judical day of being requested, the judge will decide whether to issue the order, which goes into effect immediately.

The subject of the order has no right to contest it before it is issued. He can pursue an appeals process afterward, which is a bit like having the right to a jury trial after you've already been sent to prison.

Meanwhile, some of the things a judge can consider while deciding whether to grant one of these orders are not related to suicide, such as past drunk driving arrests or recent drug use, or are totally legitimate exercises of one's Second Amendment rights, such as trying to buy a gun in the past 180 days.

Ironically, given Giffords' reference to "a mental health crisis," one of the few things the judge is prohibited from considering is "any mental health diagnosis or any connection between the risk presented by the respondent and mental illness."

No small amount of procedural shenanigans were used to get this bill through the Oregon legislature in the final few days of the legislative session. Upon it passing the Senate, SB 719 was sent not to the House Judiciary Committee—which usually handles criminal legislation, but is chaired by pro–Second Amendment Democrat Jeff Barker—but rather to the House Rules Committee. That committee's chair decided to forgo a public hearing on the bill, and instead passed it out of committee the day before July 4, when half the Republicans committee members had already gone home.

The bill now goes to Gov. Kate Brown, who is expected to sign it. Once she does, Oregon gun owners will be at the mercy of jurists like Judge Kenneth Walker, who said in court last year that "no one would have guns—not police, not security. We should eliminate all of them."