Surprise! State Lawmakers Defeat The NRA


guns in a row

Lawmakers in a bright blue state, Oregon, passed extraordinarily popular legislation on Monday that closely tracks a proposal that was recently one of President Obama’s top priorities. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn’t be a particularly surprising news story. This bill, however, involved gun sales, an area where lawmakers appear immune to public opinion.

At the national level, legislation requiring background checks for all gun sales is immensely popular. The most recent poll on the subject logged by Polling Report, a site that aggregates national polling data, found that 92 percent of registered voters support “requiring background checks for all gun buyers.” That includes 86 percent of Republicans.

Yet, in 2013, a background check bill received only 54 percent support in the United States Senate — which, in the Bizarro World that is the Senate, means that the bill did not pass. A similar drama played out twice in the Oregon state senate, where similar background check legislation failed twice before Democrats increased their majority in the last election.

Background checks do not achieve the same stratospheric levels of popularity in Oregon that they enjoy in the nation as a whole, but a 2014 poll nevertheless found that 78 percent of the state’s voters support such regulation of gun sales. Notably, the same poll found that “50 percent said they would be less likely to re-elect someone who opposes the bill,” while only “29 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a lawmaker who opposes it.”

The legislation that passed the Oregon legislature on Monday cleared the state house by a narrow 32-28 vote. It will close a loophole that enabled online gun sales without a background check, while exempting gun transfers between close family members. Gov. Kate Brown (D) is expected to sign it.

The National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm reacted to the bill’s passage by claiming that “the Oregon House of Representatives voted against your Second Amendment rights.” But even the most conservative members of the Supreme Court disagree. As Justice Antonin Scalia explained in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court’s most important Second Amendment decision, “nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”


Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress