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Gun bans would expand for domestic violence histories

SALEM — 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.

Three Republicans voted "yes" despite enormous opposition from groups like the National Rifle Association and the Oregon Firearms Federation: Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend, Rep. Rich Vial of Scholls, and Rep. Julie Parrish of West Linn.

"All week long as I've anticipated this moment, I've been inclined to crawl under my desk in the fetal position," said a teary-eyed Vial, referencing pushback against the bill.

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.

The same change would apply to restraining orders, and stalking would be added as a qualifying crime.

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.

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.

Buehler, a Republican who is running for governor, 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.

Rep. Jeff Barker, a Democrat, 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."