Representative Thatcher: Update on gun owner’s rights

by Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer)

It’s nice to be able to report some good news once in a while. This month I want to share a recent Oregon court decision which could have a broader impact than just one situation.

A couple of years ago I learned about a young man who served his country in the Marines and was now going to college to get an education while caring for his grandmother. He was suspended from Western Oregon University for carrying a small pistol in his pocket even though he had a Concealed Handgun License (CHL). I believed the rules laid down by the Oregon University System (OUS) prohibiting CHL holders from packing on any of the state’s campuses were in direct violation of state law which said only the legislature can regulate firearms.

I joined several other legislators in trying to hold OUS accountable, but it took a lawsuit by the Oregon Firearms Educational Foundation to prove we were right. Last week the Oregon Court of Appeals said the OUS rules were “invalid”. The University System spent nearly $45,000 in legal costs defending these rules. This practice of overstepping their authority is one of the main reasons I voted against a new law giving OUS more independence and the legislature less oversight.

Constituents have complained about similar rules in other state agencies and signs posted near entrances to state office buildings telling visitors they may not carry firearms even with a CHL. I hope this new legal decision sends a strong message to state agencies warning them not to overstep their authority. And this whole experience makes me wonder — what other bureaucratic regulations are out there which conflict with the laws passed by the people you elect to represent you in the Legislature?

Some media outlets around Oregon wrote editorials arguing that college campuses should be gun-free zones. We’re talking about adults here. They are old enough to drive, vote and be drafted into the military, but somehow not mature enough to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights? And what makes a University any different than a mall or a public library? Does a person with a Concealed Handgun License turn into a mass murderer the minute they step onto University property? I saw a recent comment on a newspaper blog that added this important point: “When lawfully armed citizens are told they can’t carry somewhere, that will only stop the people who choose to respect and follow the law, not the criminals who choose to break it.”

Let me touch on a related topic dealing with background checks for firearms purchases. During this year’s legislative session I pushed a proposal to do away with the expensive program run by the Oregon State Police (OSP) and let the federal government conduct the background screening like they currently do for 33 other states. The feds would do the checks for no additional cost instead of the $10 fee OSP currently imposes on each and every gun purchase in Oregon. Gun dealers would not have to sit on hold on the phone for several minutes and in some cases several hours waiting to get a response from OSP staff.

I was not able to get that proposal approved, but OSP recently launched a new on-line system called the Firearms Instant Background Check System. Dealers can basically log on and enter the information about the purchases. This new system cost the agency $30,000 to implement and it appears to duplicate a similar internet program already used by the federal program. I have heard complaints from a few dealers about technical difficulties with the new OSP system, but they add it is much better than calling in every transaction.

I will continue to work on reforms in the legislature to help gun owners in Oregon. One of my priorities remains protecting the privacy of CHL holders by exempting their personal information from disclosure under state public records laws. Stay tuned for further developments – hopefully when the legislature reconvenes in February 2012.