- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - A heated debate over gun control in the Oregon Legislature on Wednesday drew relatives of people killed during an Oregon mall shooting, law enforcement officers and gun owners as Democratic lawmakers push a bill expanding background checks to cover private firearms sales.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard two hours of public testimony on a proposal that would require gun buyers and sellers who aren’t related to appear in person before a licensed gun dealer who can run a background check through the Oregon State Police. Proponents say it would close a “loophole” that widened with the advent of Internet gun transactions.

“This bill will not take all the guns off the streets, it will not remove all the guns from the illegal buyers,” said Robert Yuille, whose wife Cindy was killed during a shooting at the Clackamas Town Center in December 2012 while she was Christmas shopping. “It will take some off. Hopefully it’ll take the one off that would have killed your wife or your daughter.”

Opponents said background checks are ineffective, difficult to enforce and disproportionally burden law abiding citizens. Dan Reid, a National Rifle Association representative, said most criminals acquire guns through ways that are already illegal, such as through theft and the black market. The gun used in the Clackamas shooting was stolen.

Keizer Republican Sen. Kim Thatcher asked how law enforcement officers would be able to police every private transaction, and Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer responded the law will be impossible to enforce.

“I don’t have any idea how it’s going to be enforced. I will tell this committee I have no intention to enforce it,” Palmer said. “State law allows me to use discretion on misdemeanors and I plan to use it every step of the way,” he added.

The state’s background check requirement already goes further than federal law, requiring them at gun shows.

The seller of a gun would face a misdemeanor for a first offense, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $6,250 fine. A second offense would be a felony, with a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Oregon law already prohibits giving a gun to minors, felons, people with recent convictions for violent behavior or those who have been found by court to have a mental illness.

Brady Campaign President Dan Gross said Oregon would be the sixth state since the Newtown school massacre to pass background checks on all gun sales.

Two previous attempts to require background checks for private sales have failed in the Oregon Legislature, but last year’s election saw Democrats increase their majority by two seats to 18-12 in the Senate. The wins were in part because of a push by a leading gun control group backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, which contributed $75,000 to Sen. Chuck Riley of Hillsboro, who defeated the Republican incumbent who opposed universal background checks.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the measure Thursday morning. If it passes, it could get a vote in the full Senate as soon as next week.

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