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More Gun Enforcement—or Less? 

Deschutes County wouldn't enforce gun laws under proposed ballot measure, though the current sheriff doesn't support that

WYATT GAINES
  • Wyatt Gaines

Deschutes County residents could vote on a ballot measure in November to prohibit the county from enforcing gun laws.

The proposed measure, called the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance, would broadly re-interpret the U.S. and Oregon Constitutions' right to bear arms and add "ancillary firearms rights." The Deschutes County sheriff would decide whether any local, state or federal gun law is unconstitutional, under the measure's broader interpretations of those rights. And if the sheriff thinks a law is unconstitutional, the measure would forbid the county from enforcing it. Individual violations could result in a fine of up to $2,000.

The measure defines ancillary firearms rights as "rights that are closely related to the right to keep and bear arms protected by the Second Amendment; including the right to manufacture, transfer, buy and sell firearms, firearm accessories and ammunition."

Redmond resident Jerrad Robison is the chief petitioner on the initiative. He's joined by three other Redmond residents, including  B.J. Soper, who's involved with the Pacific Patriots Network and Oregon Oath Keepers. 

"Our Second Amendment has been attacked over and over," Robison said. "It's time for us to take the offensive and stop all of this."

He pointed to a statewide ballot initiative, IP-43, as an example of such attacks. IP-43 would forbid sales and transfers of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines in Oregon. Supporters could begin collecting signatures soon to place it on the November ballot.

"IP-43 is one of the most unconstitutional things I've ever seen," Robison said. He worries that it, like other restrictions on gun rights, could be forced onto rural counties by voters in Portland, Eugene and Salem.

He said the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance would counter it and other gun laws he believes are unconstitutional. Supporters hope to have it adopted by county lawmakers or voters in every Oregon county. "We're doing this at a grassroots level, county by county. We're letting the citizens of the counties decide, rather than the state," he said.

Penny Okamoto, executive director of Ceasefire Oregon, the group behind IP-43, believes that Robison has it backward. She argues that it's the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance that's unconstitutional because local law cannot pre-empt state and federal laws.

"These types of laws might make someone feel good about something, but they aren't constitutional and are setting up counties for a lawsuit that I truly hope never happens because it would probably be someone who was shot because the law wasn't enforced suing the county," she said.

Others who might have standing to sue could include a county official fired for enforcing a gun law that the sheriff has declared unconstitutional under the ordinance.

Okamoto also suggested such laws could encourage criminal activity. "When law enforcement officials say they are not going to enforce laws like Oregon's universal background laws, it invites criminals to come to the county to buy guns because law enforcement won't do anything about it," she said.

Local law enforcement

Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson recently publicly announced opposition to IP-43 and support for the Second Amendment. While he agrees with the ideals behind the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance, he says he does not support it as a ballot initiative.

"I respect and understand the reasoning to want to establish this type of ordinance and I support the spirit of the ordinance, but I believe that the U. S. Constitution carries much more weight and respect than a county ordinance. I believe the Second Amendment is sufficient and this would not be an effective or good use of county ordinances," he said via an email from a department spokesman. 

He also said that the better way to deal with unconstitutional laws is to work through the courts, advocacy organizations and the legislature to change them.

Nelson added that he does not agree with a local ordinance giving him additional job responsibilities—such as deciding if gun laws are constitutional—that go beyond what state law sets out as his job description.

Under state law, District Attorney John Hummel was responsible for writing the ballot title and summary of the measure, which you can read on the Source website.

"Oregon law required me to succinctly and accurately describe the content of the proposed ballot measure and to explain the result of its passage. I worked hard to craft a summary that will well inform voters and I'm proud of the result," he said. "Now that my legal work is done, I hope voters join me in rejecting this proposal that is clearly unconstitutional and, if enacted, would make our community less safe."

Already the law elsewhere

The Deschutes County version of the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance is somewhat vague on the specifics, but a version already adopted in other Oregon counties was clearer.

In 2015, Coos County voted 61 percent to 39 percent to adopt a similar measure. The same year, the Wheeler County Court unanimously adopted one without even going to voters. Those counties' versions explain that laws regulating semi-automatic weapons, assault-style firearms, magazine size, ammunition types and modifications such as bump stocks are all unenforceable in the counties. They also remove background check requirements for private and internet sales.

Coos County Sheriff Craig Zanni said that since the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance passed there, it has not affected his job and he has not been asked to determine whether any local, state or federal gun law is constitutional. He supports its spirit, though.

"I think it makes a great statement about putting more restrictions on law-abiding citizens instead of dealing with people who are violating the laws we already have," Zanni said.

Supporters of the Deschutes County Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance must collect 4,144 verified signatures by Aug. 6 to place the measure on the Nov. 6 ballot.


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