Senate Bill 719, which allows families to petition the court to temporarily suspend a person’s access to firearms, has been one of the most controversial pieces of legislation this past session.
Only one Republican, Brian Boquist from The Dalles, supported the bill within the Oregon Legislature, and several Democrats opposed it, but the bill, which began garnering signatures on a petition in 2016 –– and was introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee but never made it to the floor for a vote –– managed to make it into Oregon law. Sen. Bill Hansell and Rep. Greg Barreto opposed the law.
Oregon joined four other states –– California, Connecticut, Indiana and Texas –– that have introduced the Extreme Risk Protection Order. This order will be temporary, and there must be documented evidence that an individual is a threat to him/herself or others.
“It’s well- intentioned legislation, but the devil is in the details,” said Captain Craig Ward of the Union County Sheriff’s Office.
He explained that law enforcement is working with the district attorney, the circuit court administrator and organizations such as the Center for Human Development to fully understand the legislation and how it will be enforced.
The bill states that if an individual feels that someone in the family –– the person has to be a direct relative or someone living in the household such as a mother, father, sister, brother, spouse or intimate partner –– might harm him/herself or someone else, the individual can file a petition with the court.
“(The orders) will be utilized in Union County,” said Center for Human Development Mental Health Director Dwight Dill. “We’ve had individuals who have been a danger to themselves or others, and we’ve tried to make a safety plan, but prior (to the passing of the bill) we didn’t really have a way to make this happen.”
The court will look at the petition and issue or deny it on the same day that it is filed. The individual who requests the order must provide evidence and submit a written and signed affidavit or an oral statement under oath.
“It’s a class A misdemeanor to file a false petition,” Ward said, adding the punishment is up to a year in jail and/or a $6,250 fine.
Evidence that the court will take into consideration includes a history of suicide threats, attempts or acts of violence toward others, a domestic violence offense, an offense involving cruelty or the abuse of animals, previous unlawful and reckless use of a deadly weapon, or the purchasing of a deadly weapon in the last six months.
According to the bill, the court is not allowed to take into consideration any mental health diagnoses. Essentially, the court will look only at the actions of the respondent.
If the court feels that it has enough convincing evidence, it will issue an Extreme Risk Protection Order.
“We knock on the door and we serve them the notice,” Ward said. “Even if the court feels strongly enough that they are an imminent threat, we still wouldn’t enter the house at (that) point.”
The order temporarily forbids a person from possessing or purchasing deadly weapons. When the order is delivered, the respondent will also receive the evidence compiled by the petitioner, the date the order was issued, and where the respondent may request a hearing.
Shelter From the Storm Executive Director Mindy Mowery is a bit concerned about the process, however.
“It seems it could give a false sense of security to the petitioner. In addition, there is no back-up protection, such as a no-contact order,” she said.
Once given the order, an individual has 24 hours to surrender his or her weapons and concealed licenses to law enforcement.
“If we’re talking about the threat of harm, imagine what someone could do in that 24-hour time span,” Mowery said.
Ward also stated that there are concerns for law enforcement if an individual doesn’t turn in the weapons after 24 hours.
“Then I have some moral and sociological concerns because what if that person plans on shooting? I don’t want police going in under fire, so do we use the SWAT team to serve a warrant?” he said.
The respondent may also surrender any weapons to a gun dealer or a third party, but the license must be turned in to law enforcement.
“I would not want to hold surrendered weapons,” said Karl Baum of Oregon Trail Trader, whose website states the business carries the largest supply of firearms, knives and optics in Eastern Oregon. “I do not want to be connected to this bad legislation in any way. The law appears to not require due process to take away an individual’s rights.”
The individual has up to 30 days after the order was issued to request a court hearing to challenge the petition. If a hearing is requested, the court is required to notify the petitioner. The hearing will then happen within 21 days after the request.
If the respondent does not request a hearing within the first 30 days of the order being served, the protection order will be considered confirmed and will be effective for a year after the original issued order.
During the hearing the court will again hear from the petitioner as well as the respondent. The court will again not take into account any mental illness diagnosis, but if the court finds that there is convincing evidence, it will uphold the order. The petitioner also may file for a renewal of the order 90 days prior to the expiration date of the original order. If the order expires, the agency holding the weapons will return them, after a criminal background check.
If the court decides to terminate the order, the court will inform the county sheriff and the order will be removed from law enforcement databases.
Mowery said that the Shelter From the Storm will be looking to law enforcement personnel and first responders for support in understanding the legislation and how it will best serve the county.