By Taylor W. Anderson

The Bulletin

Bill in Salem — Senate Bill 941 would subject all gun buyers to a criminal background check before the purchase could take place.

Sponsors: Sens. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene and Ginny Burdick, D-Portland; Reps. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland and Val Hoyle, D-Eugene

History: Oregon has twice attempted to extend background checks to person-to-person and online gun sales. The bill has already passed the Senate and had a hearing in the House on Wednesday .

What’s next: Work session scheduled for today.

Online: Read the bill online at ..

SALEM — People who use marijuana recreationally after it becomes legal July 1 might face a choice if a gun background check bill moving through the Legislature becomes law: Consume pot or buy guns legally?

A federal statute and decision from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives say marijuana users are not allowed to purchase guns.

Senate Bill 941 would require a background check for virtually all gun sales if the House passes the bill and Gov. Kate Brown signs it. Supporters say the proposed law would close a loophole that potentially allows felons access to guns by buying them privately or online.

Gun buyers at stores and gun shows are already required to fill out a form from the ATF that asks prospective buyers: “Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana … or any other controlled substance?”

While marijuana will be legal at the state level after July 1, the substance is still illegal federally, and anyone who answers yes to that question on the federal form will be denied access to purchase a gun privately and in a gun store, Oregon State Police said Wednesday.

“If you check yes to that box, you would be prohibited (to purchase a gun) under federal statute,” Oregon State Police spokesman Lt. Josh Brooks said. Lying on the question is considered a felony under federal law.

The federal law previously created a potential issue for medical marijuana users in other states. A letter the federal agency issued in September 2011 — before any state voted to legalize recreational marijuana — sought to make clear the restriction.

“Any person who uses or is addicted to marijuana, regardless of whether his or her State has passed legislation authorizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes … is prohibited by Federal law from possessing firearms or ammunition,” Arthur Herbert, an assistant director with ATF, wrote in a letter to all federal firearms licensees.

The ATF opinion says the federal form already precludes all marijuana users from purchasing guns; that wouldn’t change even if Senate Bill 941 didn’t pass. But if Senate Bill 941 passes, virtually all transfers of guns will require a background check asking buyers to answer the question.

Leland Berger is an attorney who represented a medical marijuana user in an Oregon Supreme Court case in which the court ruled cardholders are allowed to obtain a concealed-carry permit. The U.S. Supreme Court later opted not to hear an appeal on the case in 2012.

Berger said despite the weigh-in by the federal agency and Oregon State Police, the question of whether federal law prevents gun ownership may ultimately fall to a federal court to decide.

“I think the answer is, it depends on whether the person who’s purchasing the firearm admits to use,” Berger said. “If there was a legal challenge, it would depend on whether a court would conclude that the ATF interpretation of the criminal statute is accurate in states like Oregon that … has legalized responsible adult and medical use by people suffering from debilitating medical condition.”

“Whether it’s illegal for the person to possess it or not has not yet been determined by a federal court in states that have either legal medical or legal adult use marijuana laws,” Berger said.

Oregon will join Colorado, Washington and Alaska as states that have legalized recreational marijuana along with Washington, D.C.

Senate Bill 941, which has passed the Senate and had an hourslong public hearing in the House Rules committee Wednesday, would require people looking to purchase a gun privately to appear before a licensed gun dealer, who would request a background check from the Oregon State Police.

The bill’s opponents say the proposed law would be difficult for police to enforce without keeping track of all weapons through what they call gun registration.

Supporters say the proposed law would apply to online sales, where felons are able to purchase guns without a background check.

— Reporter: 406-589-4347,