Harney County judge temporarily blocks Oregon firearms measure

The Oregon Department of Justice intends to dispute that ruling but for now sales will proceed

By: - December 6, 2022 3:27 pm

A Harney County Circuit Court order will allow firearm sales to proceed under the current law for the moment. (Connor Radnovich/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

A Harney County judge on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order that halts a voter-approved firearms measure from going into effect on Thursday.

The order, by Circuit Court Judge Robert Raschio, came in response to a lawsuit filed last week by Gun Owners of America, based in Virginia, and a related organization, the Gun Owners Foundation along with Joseph Arnold and Cliff Asmussen, two Harney County firearms owners. The lawsuit seeks to block Measure 114, which will ban the sale of high-capacity firearms magazines and put a permit system in place for firearm purchases that requires buyers to undergo a training course with a law enforcement-certified instructor.

It was due to go into effect on Thursday. Now firearm sales will proceed under current law.

Raschio’s order is the latest in legal challenges around Measure 114, which has widespread opposition from firearms owners, as well as rural sheriffs who say it’s unenforceable and will cut into limited law enforcement resources due to its training and administrative requirements. Arnold and Asmussen are both residents of the rural eastern Oregon county and members of Gun Owners of America. The organization says on its website it has more than 2 million members and lobbies for firearms owners to exercise the “right to keep and bear arms without compromise.”

In response to the ruling, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said the state will petition the Oregon Supreme Court for a decision that overturns the Harney County order and matches a federal judge’s separate ruling on the measure. That ruling on a separate lawsuit filed in Portland was released earlier Tuesday. 

“As of now, the law cannot go into effect Thursday,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum tweeted, saying the state’s request will be filed as soon as possible. 

The Harney County case was filed in state court rather than the federal court because it contends that the measure infringes on rights under the Oregon constitution’s Article 1, Section 27, which says “people shall have the right to bear arms for the (defense) of themselves.”

The federal lawsuit is based on the Second Amendment and challenges the ban on high-capacity magazine sales as well as the requirements of the new permit system.

In the federal ruling, U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut said Oregon can postpone the permit requirements for 30 days. But Immergut ruled that other parts of the measure, including the ban on sales of high-capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds, can go into effect on Thursday as scheduled.

On Sunday, the Oregon Department of Justice – and local police and sheriff agencies – told the judge the state would not have a permit system in place by the deadline on Thursday. 

On Friday, Immergut heard arguments about Measure 114. The federation, the main plaintiff in the suit, calls itself Oregon’s “only no-compromise gun rights organization.”

The suit sought a temporary restraining order blocking the entire measure from going into effect while the legal challenge proceeded. 

Immergut rejected that request.

“Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden showing that they are entitled to the extraordinary relief they seek,” Immergut wrote in the 43-page opinion and order. “Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that they will suffer immediate and irreparable harm if this court does not block Measure 114 from taking effect on December 8, 2022. Plaintiffs have not produced sufficient evidence at this stage to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their challenge to Measure 114’s restrictions on large-capacity magazines.”

Both lawsuits will proceed, regardless of what happens at the state Supreme Court.

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Ben Botkin
Ben Botkin

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from the Midwest to Idaho for his first journalism job. Botkin has won multiple awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.