City Council Backs Off Open Carry Ordinance

By Denise Ruttan

opencarry2Corvallis City Council has drawn down its efforts to pass an ordinance that would have banned residents from openly carrying loaded firearms.

Instead, the council voted unanimously at its Dec. 15 meeting to direct city staffers to develop language regarding safety and Constitutional rights in the form of a council policy or resolution.

The issue came before the council after months of heated debate capped by an emotional Nov. 3 meeting at the Majestic Theatre. The matter was then shuffled off to the City’s Administrative Services Committee, which recommended that the council pursue a council-initiated policy or resolution as opposed to a voter-approved ordinance.

“The reason why we’re asking you not to consider this is because we’ve heard from the council and the chief of police that such an ordinance would basically be unenforceable and we try not to pass ordinances that are unenforceable,” said council member Hal Brauner, the liaison to the committee.

Brauner said citizens could still raise the issue through initiative petition.

Council member Joel Hirsch said he came to the meeting “prepared to advocate for whatever narrow, unenforceable ordinance we could put in place.”

But he changed his mind.

“The fact that it isn’t necessarily enforceable is not to me a reason not to enact it,” Hirsch said. “The fact that it puts our police officers at risk, which it has been made clear to me this would do.”

Corvallis Chief of Police Jonathan Sassaman said that he has provided the council with information about the issue but has not taken a position on it.

“As far as advocating one way or another, that’s not my role. My role is to provide the council with as much information as possible so that they can make a decision,” Sassaman said.

He’s provided the council with state, local, and federal statutes and case law, for example. He added that such an ordinance would be difficult to enforce.   

Prior to this decision, the debate among citizens continued, albeit in a calmer tone than the Majestic Theatre meeting.

One of those citizens was Leah Bolger, who told the council that an ad-hoc group of residents was working on a plan to encourage businesses to clearly state whether weapons are allowed in their establishments.

But not everybody who spoke supported such efforts or the ordinance. Carl Price opposed the ordinance, saying it would likely lead to expensive lawsuits.

“We do not wish to have hate groups tried in our community, which is what is happening,” Price said, referring to gun owners and carriers. “Any group whose purpose is to infringe on another group’s civil rights is a hate group and is intolerant to other people’s viewpoints. We cannot allow our city to be embroiled in hate and intolerance.”

Ron Highburger, too, spoke with impassioned opposition.

“We’re trying to fix a problem where there is no problem,” Highburger said. “By infringing on the Constitution I don’t believe is the way to go about it.”

But Roger Weber, a retired educator, said he didn’t feel safer when people could openly carry firearms.

“Do I feel safer going into a school where I know the teacher might have guns? Where does it stop?” Weber said. “If we realize and acknowledge the historicity of guns in the early formation of this country, does that oblige us to carry on in the same way now? I don’t feel my grandchildren are safe. It’s a very powerful emotion I feel about this.”

A newly elected set of council members will likely deal with the issue again come January. The council’s next meeting is on Monday, Jan. 5 at 6:30 p.m. at the downtown fire station.