Last year, voters in Columbia County, Oregon approved a Second Amendment Sanctuary ordinance that forbids “devoting resources or participating in any way in the enforcement of any law or regulation that affected an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, firearm accessories, or ammunition.” The new measure drew the ire of gun control activists and the concern of some county commissioners, who asked the local court to validate the law.
“This will allow the court to tell us whether the county can actually decline to enforce certain state laws, and it will tell us how to abide by the will of the voters to the extent that we can,” County Counsel Sarah Hanson said in the press release. “It will also safeguard the county in the event we’re ever sued by an organization, for example a gun safety group, due to the measures.”
That was back in May, and now the Columbia County judge assigned to hear the case has issued his decision by dismissing the county’s request outright.
State law allows governing bodies to seek judicial review of ordinances when there is a “justiciable controversy.”
In his opinion, [Judge Ted] Grove said the county, through its attorneys, “have not demonstrated such a controversy.”
Through the petition for judicial review, county leaders “seek what amounts to an advisory opinion designed to invalidate their own newly passed ordinance,” Grove wrote.
Grove’s decision did not address the legality of the voter-approved measures, which prohibit county enforcement of most state and federal gun control measures.
The state attorney general and attorneys from the gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety had each entered their own filings in the case, arguing that the two measures violated state and federal laws and would prevent local officials like the sheriff and district attorney from fulfilling their duties.
Grove said the involvement of those “intervenors” did not constitute a justiciable controversy.
I suspect that Grove is right about the motivations for the county’s push to have the judge weigh in on the validity of the county’s ordinance. The Second Amendment Sanctuary ordinance approved by voters may have gone too far for some commissioners, but rather than vote against putting the voter-approved law in place or publicly objecting to it, they tried to pawn the issue off to a judge in the hopes that he would declare the measure invalid. Instead, the judge declared he has no role to play, at least at the moment.
From Grove’s decision:
Petitioners do not seek to defend their ordinance from a challenge or resolve some conflict between parties. They do not attempt to overcome resistance from the Sheriff or State Police, nor, as apparent from their pleadings, would they defend their ordinance at all if challenged. Instead, Petitioners seek what amounts to an advisory opinion designed to invalidate their own newly passed ordinance.
That’s the real issue here, at least for residents of Columbia County. Rather than defend the ordinance approved by voters and the commissioners themselves, it sure looks like the county tried to invalidate the law through a pre-emptive court action, all while telling residents that the request was meant to protect the county if it were sued by gun control organizations.
I don’t know when the commissioners in Columbia County are up for re-election, but any one of them who signed off on this strategy should be challenged and replaced at the first available opportunity. We elect our representatives to work in our interest, and it’s clear that these commissioners were more interested in getting the Second Amendment Sanctuary ordinance off the books than ensuring that the will of the voters was carried out.