South Carolina Rev. Sharon Risher told the Oregon House Judiciary Committee of the anguish she felt when her mother and two cousins were killed in the massacre inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston last June.
An Oregon gun-rights group said the only reason Risher testified at the Feb. 4 hearing was because Michael Bloomberg paid the bill, and she should have stayed home.
Risher testified for legislation that would eliminate any time limit on checking prospective gun buyers’ criminal backgrounds. Pro-gun groups argue that would be a violation of their constitutional rights.
Risher said the pain caused by the deaths of her relatives was amplified when she learned the shooter, Dylann Roof, was only able to get a gun because, even though he had a drug conviction on his record, his background check took longer than three days, outside the 72-hour limit.
Roof killed nine people, including Risher’s relatives.
“The consequences of that decision are devastating,” Risher said.
Oregon has the same 72-hour window of opportunity for law enforcement to check the histories of people who want to buy guns. When the window closes, the purchase is allowed, even if the vetting has not been completed.
This is the first time Oregon lawmakers have addressed the topic of gun control since the October mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, the deadliest shooting in the state’s history.
Nine people were killed and nine others wounded before Christopher Harper-Mercer took his own life.
Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson (D) wants to close that 72-hour window, which gun-control advocates have branded the “Dylann Roof loophole” or the “Charleston loophole” in lobbying for House Bill 4147.
It would remove the time limit on checking the criminal history of a prospective gun purchaser. It would also prohibit the sale of a firearm if “the Department of State Police is unable to determine whether (the) recipient is qualified to receive the firearm.”
The Oregon Firearms Federation, a pro-gun ownership organization, doesn’t like that legislation, calling it a “gun-grab.” The OFF also had a problem with Rev. Risher flying in from South Carolina to address the state’s legislature.
“This is Oregon, not South Carolina, go the hell home and do whatever you choose, but not in my State,” one OFF supporter wrote on the group’s Facebook page.
On top of the idea that an out-of-stater was trying to influence Oregon’s legislature, OFF was outraged that Risher’s cross-country trip was paid for by Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun-control lobbying organization bankrolled by Michael Bloomberg.
Leaders of the Oregon Firearms Federation said that is proof the former mayor of New York is trying to influence politics in their state again – just like he did with SB 941, legislation that required background checks for all private gun sales.
When Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed SB 941 in 2015, it was the first time gun-control legislation had been approved in Oregon in more than 14 years. The Oregonian reported “the tide turned” when Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety group helped get two Democrats elected to the state Senate.
Rep. Sherrie Sprenger (R) told the House Judiciary Committee that she, too, had a problem with Risher testifying before the panel.
“I also want us to be very cautious here in Oregon that we’re not building Oregon laws on South Carolina instances,” Sprenger said.
The Oregon Firearms Federation also said the introduction of HB 4147 during what was supposed to be a special legislative session to address the state’s budget problems showed it was “a vendetta against gun owners, and an effort to rush through more dangerous restrictions on gun rights with as little public input as possible.”
The Oregon Firearms Federation actually agreed with Williamson on one point: the 72-hour window on background checks needs to be eliminated. But rather that extend the ability to stop a gun sale infinitely, the OFF wants all background checks to disappear.
OFF said the system as it is now violates the Second Amendment and privacy rights of gun buyers.
“Oregon’s safeguards are minimal and insufficient and every year thousands of Oregonians are denied their rights because of the flawed background check system and now the Democrats in the Oregon legislature want to remove even those small protections,” the OFF posted on its blog.
Rep. Williamson disputed that and said most background checks are completed in minutes, and those that are not finished on time usually wind up being rejected because of the prospective gun buyer’s criminal history.
Even if the check goes slower than expected, nothing says gun dealers can’t hold off longer than 72 hours to sell a firearm if the background check is not complete. Some wait, some don’t.
FBI Director James Comey said the dealer who sold Dylann Roof the gun used to murder Rev. Risher’s relatives and six other people is one who did not wait.
“Most responsible gun dealers wait until the background check is complete. But not everybody does,” Williamson said. “Closing this loophole is the right thing to do.”
Rep. Sprenger, though, urged her colleagues to be careful about rushing to close a “loophole” that is really meant to be a safeguard to protect citizen rights.
“Sometimes we call things we don’t like loopholes,” she said. “I’ve heard that in this building a lot of times. Doesn’t mean there’s a loophole; it means it’s the way the law is intended to work.”