Oregon Becomes Eighth State to Expand Background Checks on All Gun Sales

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Attendees look at pistols as they visit trade booths during the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, April 12 in Nashville. Harrison McClary/Reuters

Oregon on Monday became the eighth state to expand criminal background checks to include all private gun sales, even transactions on the Internet, when Democratic Governor Kate Brown signed the bill into law.

A federal law, commonly known as the Brady Law, requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers and to maintain records of the sales. But unlicensed private sellers at gun shows and online are not required by federal law to observe the same policies, which allows people to buy and transfer firearms without first passing a background check. 
 
Forty percent of guns sold in the U.S. are done so without a background check, according to a 2014 report by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
 
Since the Brady Law was enacted in 1994, background checks have stopped more than 2 million gun purchases by people who may pose a risk to public safety, such as felons and domestic abusers, according to the Brady Campaign.
 
In 2000, Oregon passed legislation requiring background checks at gun shows. Monday's expansion of the law closes a preexisting loophole to include all private transactions, including online sales. The measure, which took effect immediately, also will require background checks on all transfers, with some exceptions, in 90 days. There are exemptions for family members and people who lend guns for hunting reasons. 

Brown's signing of the law is a big win for gun-reform groups after gun activists, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), for years successfully blocked previous attempts to tighten firearms laws.

Oregon is the sixth state in the past two years to apply background checks to all gun sales, in the wake of the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 first-grade students and six educators were killed by 20-year-old Adam Lanza.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, President Barack Obama's efforts to enact stricter gun laws failed in Congress when lawmakers didn't approve a background checks bill in April 2013. Gun rights groups like the NRA argued against the bill, warning lawmakers that the legislation would factor into the group's congressional scorecard. The gun organization gives grades and endorsements to politicians who defend the Second Amendment on the local, state and federal levels. As a result, many of the Democrats who were up for reelection in 2014 voted against the bill and joined almost the entire Republican opposition. Only four Republicans voted in favor of the bill.

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, five other states besides Oregon—Colorado, Connecticut, New York, Delaware and Washington—have expanded background checks to include all firearms sales, an illustration of how legislators are working at the state level to prevent gun violence. Six months ago, Washington became the seventh state after residents passed Initiative 594 during the November midterm elections. California and Rhode Island implemented background checks on all gun sales before the Sandy Hook shooting.

A total of 18 states now require background checks for some—but not all—gun purchases.

The NRA and Republicans have argued that background checks won't prevent mass shootings like the one in Newtown because individuals will find ways to obtain a weapon. Lanza's mother, Nancy, whom he fatally shot before driving to the school on the morning of December 14, 2012, legally purchased the guns earlier. The Lanza home in Newtown contained more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition for multiple weapons, including the rifle and handgun the gunman used to carry out the massacre, according to a 2013 report published by the Office of the State's Attorney for the Judicial District of Danbury. The report also concluded that Lanza had significant mental health problems that affected his ability to live a normal life and interact with other people.

Critics have said the legislation in Oregon will fail to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people who are mentally ill. Republican leaders called the law "deeply flawed" and "unenforceable" because they believe law-abiding residents are being targeted without increasing mental health services. The signing of the bill "represents another milestone in what is already becoming the most partisan and misguided session in recent memory," Oregon House Republican Leader Mike McLane wrote Monday in a statement.

States with expanded background checks see 46 percent fewer women murdered with guns by intimate partners, 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers killed by guns and 48 percent fewer gun-related suicides, according to a recent report by Everytown for Gun Safety, a group created in 2014 that works for passage of laws at all levels to reduce gun violence.