For years it was believed by many that Oregon law automatically restored a non-violent felon’s firearm rights fifteen years after the end of their sentence. That argument is now legally dead after the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Michael Burris for felon in possession of a restricted weapon. Mr. Burris’s attorneys argued that Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 166.270 contained an exception to the felon in possession of a firearm statute for non-violent felons with a single felony conviction who are fifteen years past their sentence, and that the exception applied to Mr. Burris. However, the court ruled that another law, ORS 166.250, allowed Mr. Burris to be convicted of the misdemeanor crime of felon in possession of a restricted weapon, despite qualifying for the exception in ORS 166.270.
A century ago, the first restriction was introduced regarding felons possessing firearms. In 1925, the predecessor to the firearm statutes was a law restricting concealed carry of firearms without a license and restricting felons from possessing concealable weapons. In 1953 Oregon renumbered the laws of the state, and different provisions of the 1925 firearms act ended up in different statutes, including ORS 166.250 and ORS 166.270. In 1975 ORS 166.270 was amended to add the fifteen-year restoration provision. It still banned ‘concealable firearms’ and was the only ban in Oregon statute at the time that limited a person’s firearm privileges based on their criminal record. Restoration of firearm rights was automatic for eligible people.
The firearm prohibition that the Oregon Supreme Court decided in the Burris case is contained in ORS 166.250. That statute started out as a concealed carry statute but turned into a wide-ranging set of firearm laws that were passed as part of an Oregon gun control bill passed in 1989. One of the laws was a second restriction on felons possessing firearms. The Burris case decided that the ORS 166.250 felon restriction is independent of the ORS 166.270 restriction, and that the latter’s exception does not apply to the former.
The Burris decision underscores the fact that firearm prohibitions do not go away on their own. The Oregon Supreme Court suggests a firearm rights restoration through ORS 166.274 as a path to restore one’s firearm rights. It is not the only path, but it is a commonly used legal proceeding with a clear and achievable legal standard.
Firearm rights are complicated and ever-changing. Court decisions here and in other parts of the country can affect interpretation of firearm rights in Oregon. If you have any questions, you should consult an experienced firearm rights attorney.