Closing the last loophole

SB 700 would expand gun background check law to cover private transactions

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony this morning on several gun-control measures, including one that would make Oregon's already comprehensive background check law even more so. The bill should be approved.

Gun-control legislation has been the subject of exhaustive debate nationally and in the states since the massacre of children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December. The public and legislators are deeply divided over the most restrictive proposals, such as bans on semiautomatic assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Those proposals essentially have been dropped in Congress, and Oregon lawmakers say they are unlikely to gain much traction here either.

But if there is one thing the vast majority of Americans agree on, it is strengthening background check requirements to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday reported 91 percent of registered voters favor universal background checks. Among households with guns, 88 percent of respondents were in favor. Other polls have consistently reported similar numbers, including a January poll that found 84 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of National Rifle Association members also supporter universal background checks.

Oregon law is already stronger in this regard than those of some states. Federally licensed gun dealers are required to perform background checks on purchasers, but laws in many states exempt sales at gun shows.

Oregon law does not contain the so-called "gun show exemption." But it does not apply to gun transactions between private individuals.

Senate Bill 700 would close that loophole by requiring private sellers to obtain a background check before selling a gun. They could perform the check themselves, or pay a gun dealer a fee to conduct it.

Those who oppose background checks scoff that criminals will simply ignore the law, so it will have no effect. In fact, the private-sale exemption allows criminals to get around the law now.

SB 700 does contain a narrow exemption allowing family members to transfer guns to one another without a background check, unless the family member transferring the gun knows or should have known the recipient was legally prohibited from possessing a gun.

Law-abiding gun owners should have no objection to this bill, because it should have no effect on their ability to purchase a gun.

Critics will argue that background checks don't work. Several studies indicate that checks are effective — but they cannot be expected to work if they are riddled with loopholes.

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