FILE — Oregon gun protester

An armed protester stands across from the Oregon state capitol building in Salem, Oregon on November 7, 2020, at a "Stop the Steal" rally condemning the 2020 presidential election results.

(The Center Square) – Oregon Democrats aim to pass one of the toughest gun storage bills in the nation that critics say amounts to a backdoor tax on gun ownership.

Under Senate Bill 2510, gun owners would have to secure their weapons with trigger or cable locks in a locked container or a gun room. It also requires gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to law enforcement within 72 hours from the time they "reasonably" could have been aware and up to 96 hours if no means of reporting is available. A gun owner is required to supervise the use of their firearm if transferred to a minor. The legal age to own a gun in Oregon is 18.

Violators of the above rules would be found guilty of Class A, B and C violations punishable by fines of $165 to as much as $440. If passed, SB 2510 would have Oregon join 11 other states, including California and Connecticut, with gun storage laws. Only Massachusetts requires all guns to be stored and locked. The bill would take effect Jan. 1.

The bill builds on legislation passed in 2018 that extended restraining orders to unmarried romantic partners and related bans on gun purchases. HB 4145 was sponsored by Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-Tualatin, who sees SB 2510 as a crucial step in mitigating gun violence. Prusak, a survivor of gun violence while in high school, was the target recently of anti-semitic flyers with Holocaust imagery found in Clackamas County this month. The leaflets bore the web address of a gun-rights group.

"I know the trauma victims of gun violence face, and I will not be intimidated from passing legislation on gun safety," Prusak said. "That is the work our constituents sent us here to do."

Proponents of SB 2510 have hailed it as a means of curbing gun suicides and accidental injuries. Supporters point to 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showing that out of 39,740 reported deaths from gun violence in the U.S., 6 in every 10 deaths were from suicides. More than 2 in 10 were unintended.

An average of 456 Oregonians died in 2017 from gun-related injuries, a rate of 11.7 per 100,000. The majority of those deaths were from suicide, followed by homicide, according to a 2018 report by Oregon Health Sciences University.

Teri Mills, a retired nurse and gun-control activist with Moms Demand Action, said the bill would enhance, not restrict, gun ownership or limit public safety.

"I teach the importance of wearing a helmet when riding a bike, fastening a seatbelt when driving a car or riding on an airplane, and making sure poisonous substances are closed with a childproof cap," Mills told the House Health Care Committee in March. "We are not asking to confiscate guns; we want these securely stored to end needless deaths and life-changing injuries."

Gun control laws have seen strong resistance in past years from gun rights groups in Oregon. Several succeeded in passing measures in Umatilla and Columbia counties, making it a misdemeanor for police to enforce the state's red flag laws and most concealed carry permit requirements.

Gun owners have expressed particular concern with the spike in crime and gun violence in major cities such as Portland, where police are seeing a three-year high in gun violence, though it remains below national levels.

"It is beginning to look as though all us ordinary citizens must become criminals in order to have our rights protected when it comes to any of the latest firearm bills," gun owner Dale Casey testified last month. "Criminals are becoming the protected class with all the rights while we noncriminals are being taken as suckers."

Gun owners also object to the cost of buying new gun safes, especially those for long guns and hunting rifles, which can cost several hundred dollars. That's of concern to the 31 out of 36 Oregon counties the USDA considers rural.

"When tragedies occur, do legislators not care that this nonsense will further criminalize already poor people who have trouble paying our medical bills, food, rent or electricity?" gun owner Thomas Reyes testified to state lawmakers last month.

Critics also question whether it defies the U.S. Supreme Court's 2008 affirmation of the U.S. Court of Appeals' ruling in Heller v. District of Columbia. That ruling struck down sections of the 2005 Child Safety Lock Act requiring rifles and shotguns to be kept unloaded, disassembled or bound by a trigger lock.

"Under any of the standards of scrutiny the Court has applied to enumerated constitutional rights, this prohibition – in the place where the importance of the lawful defense of self, family, and property is most acute – would fail constitutional muster," then-Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority decision. 

SB 2510 is one of two bills creating political logjams in the Oregon Legislature this session. The other, Senate Bill 554, would allow cities and counties to ban privately owned guns from public buildings. The proposal is in reaction to the invasion of the Oregon state Capitol building in December.

The bill spurred a one-day walkout protest by Senate Republicans in February. Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Lyons, faces a recall petition in his district for returning to work the week after. Several other Senate Republicans reported receiving death threats to the East Oregonian for attending the floor vote.

Efforts to bring SB 2510 to a vote on the House Floor have stalled since the bill was first introduced in January. It was sent back to committee the first week of April and a second time Monday. It's been sent back to the House Health Care Committee.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.