Bruce Peasley fills out firearm sales paperwork as Sharie Peasley looks on. photo by Jim Williams
Bruce Peasley fills out firearm sales paperwork as Sharie Peasley looks on. photo by Jim Williams

In the wake of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and more recently in Newtown, Connecticut, the focus of most Americans moved away from political gridlock in Washington, and the presidential election, to questioning the ease at which someone can acquire a gun, questioning how the mentally ill among us can get ahold of a gun, to whether the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, and what cost we as a country can endure for this "right."

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right of citizens to own a gun for the purposes of self-defense, within the home. But like all constitutional rights, it is not absolute, and open to interpretation. Several statutes, such as the National Firearms Act (1934), Gun Control Act (1968) and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993), dictate the law pertaining to the possession of firearms in the United States. In fact, this act prohibits individuals convicted of felonies, involved in substance abuse or those under the age of 18 from carrying certain types of firearms. Similar laws are stipulated for firearms dealers within the federal jurisdiction.

In 1939 the U.S. Supreme Court "suggested" that the second amendment right should be connected with service in a militia. In 2008 the supreme court upheld the individual right to have a gun such as a handgun for home self-defense, but it left open the question of whether or not states could overrule the decision. In another 5-4 decision in 2010, the Supreme Court seemed to put the matter to rest, finding the Second Amendment restrained the ability of state and local government to limit the Second Amendment right. Justice Samuel Alioto, writing for the court, said that the Second Amendment right "applies equally to the federal government and the states."

The gun debate is playing out right here in Sisters.

"Absolutely, people are very fearful of losing their Second Amendment rights," said Bruce Peasley of Cascade Liquidators. "I think it's a big problem and should be left alone but I have no problem with tightening up mental health issues within the framework of the Second Amendment. I certainly don't want to sell a gun to someone who may have mental issues, but how is that something I would know?"

In Oregon, any retailer selling a gun must be a Federal Firearms Licensed (FFL) dealer. All dealers, pawnbrokers, etc., must keep a record of every handgun sold, and this record shall contain the time, date, place of the sale, the name of the salesperson, the make, model, and manufacturer's number. A copy of the transaction is then mailed to the local and state police agencies the day of the sale.

"We've seen a big increase in gun inquiries and gun transfers between other FFLs," said Peasley. "At least a 50-percent increase since Newtown. We're getting transfers almost daily. Mostly AR-15s and semi-automatic handguns."

To buy a handgun anywhere in the State of Oregon, a person has to fill out a Firearms Transaction Record Part I-Over the Counter, otherwise known as form 4473. The purchaser must sign his name and affix his address to the register, thumbprints are taken, and the purchaser must present clear evidence of his identity. After supplying some basic information, the form asks 15 questions about your background. You fill out the form, sign your name and turn it back to your dealer. Once the dealer has completed their portion of the form, the next step is to check with the state police, who will do a quick criminal background check, these checks can be done online and, depending upon any irregularities a person can walk out with a weapon in anywhere from 10 minutes to two hours.

"It's not as easy as the news wants you to think, you don't just buy a gun and walk out the door," said Sharie Peasley. "It's pretty easy if you pass the background check, but you have to do that first. It's through the Oregon State Police which is tied into the federal system, so there are checks."

Federal law requires any prospective gun buyer undergo a criminal background check when buying from a licensed dealer. But in 33 states you can buy a gun at a gun show and not have to go through a criminal background check. Bills proposing to close this loophole have been introduced to both the House and the Senate but have failed to make it out of their committees. Also, there are no prohibitions regarding the sale and transfer of weapons purchased through private channels or newspaper ads.

According to government statistics, nearly 40 percent of gun sales happen in this way.

Before there was Aurora, and Newtown, there was Columbine High School, where 12 students were killed by two fellow students in 1999. The incident then opened the debate about gun control. In 2007 at Virginia Tech University, 32 people were killed by a lone assailant. More recently there were the shootings in Tucson, Arizona, which left six people dead and congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords seriously wounded. Each time there was talk of changing gun laws, but nothing happened. Why?

In a 2008 poll only 28 percent of the people voted for a total ban on firearms. A year later the same poll revealed that only 39 percent of Americans favored any kind of restrictions on the use of guns. These numbers should come as no surprise in a country that leads developed countries in firearms possession, with 40 percent of Americans owning a gun.

The primacy of firearms is enshrined in America's founding documents, in a country that grew out of rebellion against a European monarchy.

James Madison, one of the most important framers of the Constitution, once said about the European monarchies, "They are afraid to trust people with arms." Thomas Jefferson said, "When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people, there is liberty."

Patrick Henry said, "Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined."

For the founding fathers, an armed society was a free society. But they could not foresee the kind of mayhem that can be wreaked when mental illness, criminal intent and modern firearms technology intersect.

It's a thorny issue that the country continues to struggle to navigate. Last week President Obama signed an executive order, putting 23 different actions into place to confront mass shootings and everyday gun violence. The plan included a renewed ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines, and expanded background checks. In addition, he said he would act without Congressional approval to increase enforcement of existing gun laws and improve communications between federal agencies in an effort to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

As the executive orders go into effect, gun sales are brisk. The fear of losing the right to own a gun or certain types of guns has driven up prices and made some guns unavailable. At online retailers Cabela's and Cheaper Than Dirt, nearly every semi-automatic handgun was out of stock. Virtually every configuration of the AR-15 from every manufacturer was out of stock, and when they were in stock, the price was nearly a third higher than previously quoted.

At the local Bi-Mart store in Sisters, employees were unable to respond to requests for information about gun sales, but Don Leber, director of sales and marketing said in a phone interview that, "Sales of guns and ammunition really haven't changed for us since November. We don't sell the type of guns that were involved in the shootings. We sell mainly hunting-type rifles and ammo, so there really hasn't been any impact on us."

Security vs. possible infringement on civil liberties has been part of the American landscape since 9/11. Second Amendment rights clash with various definitions of "responsible"

restrictions.

The debate continues - and so do the gun sales.



CLARIFICATION:

All dealers or pawnbrokers must keep a record of all firearms sales, handgun or long gun. This record is approved online by OSP via the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That record is then kept on file by the FFL holder for a period of 20 years or if the FFL is no longer in business the records are turned into the ATF.

A form 4473 is required for all firearms, handgun or long gun and in Oregon dealers can only sell handguns to Oregon residents. They cannot sell any firearms to CA residents.