SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers want to expand a ban on the purchase or possession of firearms by people with domestic violence records or restraining orders.
The proposal would add to the list of those who could be barred from ownership after a conviction, add to the list of those who could be barred after a receiving a restraining order, and add stalking as a qualifying crime. The state House approved the measure 37-23 Thursday, sending it to the Senate. Supporters said the bill would close a loophole in existing law that allows some abusers, such as boyfriends who abuse partners they don't live with, to be excluded even after an otherwise qualifying crime.
"A person who assaults their boyfriend or girlfriend is no less guilty than someone who assaults their wife," said Democratic House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson.
The proposal builds on a bill signed into Oregon law in 2015. That law bans gun ownership by people who have been convicted of domestic abuse, or had a restraining order taken out against them.
The proposal that advanced Thursday would expand that by substituting a broader definition: In place of "intimate partners," the proposal would ban anyone who had been convicted of domestic violence against a "family or household member" from owning a gun or ammunition. Under the existing law, Williamson said before the vote, boyfriends or other unmarried partners who don't live together and don't have children aren't considered intimate partners. The broader term would include partners who don't live together, as well as immediate family members like adult children.
"We wanted to close what is called the boyfriend loophole," Rep. Jeff Barker (D) of Beaverton, told KOIN 6 News.
The same change would apply to restraining orders, and stalking would be added as a qualifying crime.
"If somebody decides their old high school girlfriend should be part of their life and she’s not interested and they’re stalking, not only is that creepy, but it’s very dangerous," Barker said.
State police would be required to forward any flagged attempts made by banned individuals to buy guns to probation officers and local police for investigation, and those same agencies would be required to report yearly on the outcome of their investigations. Qualifying crimes would also be reported to federal authorities, for addition to federal databases on prohibited purchasers.
Barker said this wouldn't affect law-abiding gun owners.
"I’m a hunter, I’m a retired cop, so it doesn’t affect me because I’m not stalking and I’m not beating people," he said. "I think part of the pushback is people who feel like they’re being incrementally, their rights are being taken away and I’m sensitive to that -- but this is a very common sense bill."
Twenty-three house Republicans opposed the measure.
Rep. Andy Olson, a Republican, said he objected because things besides guns could also be deadly, and limiting access to guns for abusers would not necessarily reduce the risk that they might kill.
"This bill does not fix the systemic problems our state is experiencing," Olson said.
Republican Rep. Julie Parrish said she had concerns, especially the costs counties would incur jailing more people and complying with the reporting requirements in the bill. But Parrish voted yes, saying she supports the larger idea behind the measure, especially including stalkers in the list of those barred from owning guns.
Rep. Knute Buehler, a Republican, likewise broke from his caucus to support the bill. "I think survivors of domestic violence shouldn't have to live in fear that their abusers can obtain a firearm," said Buehler.
Buehler also told KOIN 6 News he's a strong supporter of the second amendment, but this is an important step to protecting people.
"Nobody who’s been a victim of domestic violence should live in fear that their domestic abuser has access to firearms," Buehler said. "I look at it as more keeping people safe, keeping vulnerable women and children safe. I think that’s the most important thing."
Lawmakers' remarks during debate over the bill were notably emotional, with several fighting back tears, or having to pause during their remarks.
Barker said that as a former police officer near Portland, he had been called repeatedly to a particular home in the area over domestic violence. Later, he said, he was called to the same address after a woman, the mother of children at the home, was shot and killed.
"Had there not been a gun in that family, maybe those girls would have been able to grow up with their mother," Barker said. "I support gun rights, but convicted abusers and stalkers do not have an inherent right to continue to possess guns."
KOIN 6 News reporter Cole Miller contributed to this report.
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