- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon Democrats introduced a bill Thursday to require background checks on private firearm sales, setting up a showdown with gun rights advocates that will happen as soon as next week.

Gun control supporters have tried unsuccessfully for years to expand Oregon’s background-check requirement to nearly all gun sales and transfers. They poured money into key legislative races last year and now face much stronger prospects with expanded Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.

“I grew up in Texas, I’ve owned guns for 45 years. I bought my first shotgun when I was 15,” said Democratic Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a bill sponsor. “I think it’s appropriate, as most gun owners would agree, that we take reasonable steps to ensure bad people that are ineligible aren’t getting access to guns.”

A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for next Wednesday.

Oregon would be the eighth state to require universal background checks, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of several national groups working on expanding the regulation in Oregon.

The measure would require private buyers and sellers who aren’t related to visit a licensed gun dealer for a background check. That goes further than previous attempts to expand background checks, which required only that the seller call an Oregon State Police hotline to check the buyer’s background.

“This bill allows me to give a gun to a first cousin who I may have not seen in 40 years without a background check. But I can’t give it to my best friend,” said Kevin Starrett, head of the Oregon Firearms Federation, a gun-rights group.

Certain temporary transfers, such as someone handing over a gun to a firearms repairman, are exempt.

The bill also allows courts to determine whether or not a person who has been ordered into outpatient mental health treatment should have possession of a firearm during their period of treatment, said Prozanski, of Eugene.

Oregon already goes further than federal law in requiring background checks at gun shows under an initiative approved by voters in 2000.

“Now, since 2000, the Internet has become an online marketplace for guns, where tens of thousands of guns are available to Lord knows who without a background check,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign.

Federal law requires background checks for sales by licensed gun dealers, but not at gun shows or private transactions. Checks are done through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a database maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to the bureau’s online report, the database did over 43,000 checks in Oregon for January and February. About 40 percent of the state’s households have guns.

The checks focus on convicted felons, people under indictment, the mentally ill, drug users, people under restraining orders, dishonorably discharged veterans and people in the country illegally. Not all states report mental health records to the system.

According to the gun control advocacy group Oregon Alliance for Gun Safety, the state’s background check system denies about 1 percent of firearm sales.

Two years in a row, the Legislature failed to pass bills requiring background checks for private gun sales. But last year’s election saw Democrats up their majority by two seats to 18-12 in the Senate, in part because of a push by a leading gun control group backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg.

The gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety contributed $75,000 last year to Democratic Sen. Chuck Riley of Hillsboro, who defeated the Republican incumbent who opposed expanded background checks. They also donated $250,000 to former Gov. John Kitzhaber, who was a longtime supporter of expanded background checks.

According to state records, Everytown contributed nearly $600,000 on the 2014 election, $450,000 of which was in contributions to candidates and committees, and $110,000 on other grassroots efforts.

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