Oregon's magazine ban, pistol purchase permitting scheme set for trial

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Oregon’s narrowly-approved Measure 114 has been on hold for the past several months thanks to a circuit court judge’s injunction, but a separate federal lawsuit is set to go to trial next week, and gun owners are hoping that the ballot initiative will be struck down entirely by the courts.


U.S. District Judge Karen Immergut declined to issue a temporary restraining order of her own shortly after the law was approved by less than 51% of voters last November, ruling that the magazine ban was presumptively constitutional on the theory that the magazines aren’t likely protected by the Second Amendment in the first place, but even if they are, banning them is okay because its meant to address “unprecedented societal concerns” about mass shootings. Now she’s set to preside over a five-day trial that will delve more deeply into the constitutional questions surrounding Measure 114’s ban on commonly-owned magazines, with the state of Oregon and Measure 114’s defenders arguing that the bans are a life-saving necessity and opponents maintaining that the ban is a violation of our fundamental right to armed self-defense.

Immergut last week denied each side’s motions to rule in their favor without a trial.

“The record contains genuine disputes of material fact, which would benefit from full development through trial,” she wrote.

She said she’ll consider whether large-capacity magazines “constitute a dramatic technological change from earlier firearms capable of firing more than 10 rounds.”

Immergut also noted that she’ll take up the constitutionality of the gun permit requirement under Measure 114, but she likely won’t consider how it will be applied in reaching her opinion.

Measure challengers contend the permits will deprive law-abiding citizens of guns because state police haven’t yet hired sufficient staff to handle the anticipated increase in background checks required to obtain a permit.

“Evidence about future implementation is not ripe for determination in this trial,” Immergut said.


Based on Immergut’s previous ruling, it seems pretty clear that she’s looking for ways to justify the ban, and as Reason’s Jacob Sullum noted shortly after she declined to issue a TRO, she seems willing to twist the words of the Supreme Court in order to do so.

The FPC cites a couple of real-life cases that suggest magazine capacity can be crucial in fending off armed home invaders. More generally, it notes that shots fired in self-defense often miss their target, even when fired by trained police officers. Measure 114’s exemption for police officers recognizes that fact, the FPC says, and “the average Oregon citizen has just as much right as a police officer to defend herself with standard capacity magazines.”

For Immergut, however, the crucial point is that situations where Oregon’s magazine limit would impair self-defense are “exceedingly rare.” In effect, she is suggesting that arms are not covered by the Second Amendment unless the government agrees that they are “necessary”—and not for “lawful purposes” generally but for self-defense in particular.

Immergut even questions whether “large capacity magazines” are “in common use” for “lawful purposes,” which seems undeniable given how many law-abiding Americans own them. “Plaintiffs have not shown that magazines capable of accepting more than ten rounds of ammunition are firearms in ‘”common use” today for self-defense’ and thereby covered by the plain text of the Second Amendment,” she writes.


The Supreme Court has said that the central component of the Second Amendment is self-defense, but nothing in HellerMcDonald, or Bruen suggests that only arms that are in common use for self-defense are protected. If so, that would set up a bizarre standard that would allow for single shot bolt action hunting rifles to be banned, while protecting the handguns that were the primary target of gun control activists for decades.

While self-defense may be at the heart of the Second Amendment, the text plainly (and simply) refers to the right to keep and bear arms. Unless the state of Oregon can come up with longstanding historical analogues to banning commonly-owned arms (which they’ve so far been able to do), the state’s ban should be overturned by Immergut. I’m not all that confident the judge will apply the Bruen test appropriately and fairly, especially given her initial opinion, but unless she’s engaging in some anti-gun activism from the bench it shouldn’t be a close call to find in favor of the plaintiffs when the trial concludes next week.


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