New Powers For Oregon Sheriffs

You may have missed it, but Oregon gun rights activists and militia groups succeeded on the county level in passing what OPB calls “a new kind of gun law.” County ordinances are known collectively as the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance, passed in eight of the 10 Oregon counties where it was on the ballot November 6, supported by the Committee for the Preservation of the Second Amendment, the Oregon Firearms Federation, and militia groups the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers. These ordinances charge county sheriffs with determining whether state and federal gun laws are constitutional and prevent local resources from being used to enforce laws that are perceived to infringe on Second Amendment rights. 

Baker, Columbia, Douglas, Klamath, Lake, Linn, Umatilla and Union counties all passed versions of this law. Benton County voters did not have this measure put before them, but their neighbors in both Lincoln and Linn counties did. Lincoln County voters soundly rejected the ordinance, but Linn County passed it by just over 1,300 votes, about a 2.6 percent margin. Jackson County also rejected the law. 

The Committee for the Preservation of the Second Amendment was central to this ordinance campaign. It was publicly supported by the Oregon Firearms Federation (OFF), a gun rights advocacy group who describes themselves as “Oregon’s only no-compromise gun rights organization.” OFFPAC is also the committee’s largest donor, donating $4,450 (a majority of the funds the committee received) since July 2018. 

The committee’s campaign was also supported by controversial militia organizations the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers, both of whom are classified as “anti-government” groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Both groups contest this distinction, but their actions in recent years do not seem to strengthen the claim that they are focused on fighting “tyranny” or protecting civil liberties. 

To note, Three Percenters members participated in both the Malheur standoff in 2016 and the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA in 2017. The Oath Keepers, as their name suggests, believe that people who have taken the oath of law enforcement or military service, to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” should continue to serve this oath in their civilian lives. This has manifested itself in the form of Oath Keeper members declaring their intent to march to the southern border a few weeks ago to repel the invasion of the women and children traveling with the “migrant caravan.” 

There are also legal questions about the powers these ordinances grant sheriffs. Rob Taylor of Coos County runs the Committee for the Preservation of the Second Amendment. He told The Advocate that he was “thrilled with the results” of Election Day, but admits that “there is a chance the courts will strike down the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance or (SAPO).” 

Current sheriffs have voiced support as well as concerns about the practicality of the laws. Sheriffs John Hanlin of Douglas County and Sheriff Craig Zanni of Coos County both told OPB they support the political message of the ordinance but do not believe that it is enforceable. Similarly, Linn County Sheriff Jim Yon told the Albany Democrat-Herald that he and his office “won’t do anything differently than we have for a long time,” and that “at the end of the day, it is up to the courts to have the final say on what is Constitutional.” 

However, Taylor and his organization have a new version ready should the courts strike down the current one.  “The newer version eliminates the Sheriff’s role as a determining factor, and it utilizes the anti-commandeering principle,” Taylor said, “It is the same legal principle used by sanctuary cities to protect illegal aliens from federal enforcement.” They call this new version the Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance (SASO). 

Taylor also believes the legal fate of his ordinance and that of sanctuary city law are tied together. “Any court that rules against the SASO would potentially open up new legal challenges for policies that establish sanctuaries for people who have violated federal immigration laws,” said Taylor. 

The level of support for these measures in counties located all across Oregon could indicate trouble for newly re-elected Governor Kate Brown, who has pushed for more gun control legislation in the past and intends to continue doing so during her coming four-year term. Earlier this year, Gov. Brown helped close the “boyfriend loophole,” which prevented people convicted of domestic violence and abuse from owning a gun. The OFF and most Republicans in the legislature opposed this action. Gov. Brown has also supported closing the “Charleston loophole.” This refers to guns purchased when the FBI does not respond to a background check request within three days and is how the shooter of the Emanuel AME church shooting in Charleston, SC in 2015 bought his gun.

By Ian MacRonald