Oregon AG Sues Counties Over 2A Sanctuary Ordinances

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

When Oregon legislators passed a mandatory gun storage law earlier this year, officials in two counties responded with an ordinance of their own stating that the new laws were not to be enforced by local police. In fact, the measures go so far as to allow for civil lawsuits against individual officers and deputies who attempt to enforce the law. Now Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has sued Yamhill and Harney county commissioners, and she’s using the state’s firearm preemption law as her legal rationale.

The Oregon Department of Justice lawsuit filed Friday asks the courts to void the local ordinances because state law declares counties don’t have the authority to regulate firearms.

Rosenblum is not happy officials, who enforce the state’s laws, might be prosecuted and subjected to private lawsuits, “Gun safety laws exist to help keep guns out of dangerous hands and keep people safe. A county commission simply doesn’t get to override state law in this way,” Rosenblum said in a written statement. “The laws of Oregon remain fully in force – and fully enforceable – notwithstanding these invalid ordinances. No officials should be frightened out of properly doing their job by the threat of illegitimate criminal charges or bogus lawsuits.”

The biggest problem with arguing the firearm preemption law prevents these counties from passing their Second Amendment Sanctuary ordinances is that neither Yamhill or Harney counties are actually doing anything to regulate firearms. Instead, they’re regulating the behavior of law enforcement. And the state’s preemption statutes are pretty clear in their intent; to prevent localities from passing ordinances that are more restrictive than state law.

  1. Except as expressly authorized by state statute, the authority to regulate in any matter whatsoever the sale, acquisition, transfer, ownership, possession, storage, transportation or use of firearms or any element relating to firearms and components thereof, including ammunition, is vested solely in the Legislative Assembly.
  2. Except as expressly authorized by state statute, no county, city or other municipal corporation or district may enact civil or criminal ordinances, including but not limited to zoning ordinances, to regulate, restrict or prohibit the sale, acquisition, transfer, ownership, possession, storage, transportation or use of firearms or any element relating to firearms and components thereof, including ammunition. Ordinances that are contrary to this subsection are void.

The question is whether the ordinances declaring that the counties will not enforce the state’s new storage mandate actually create a regulation regarding the possession or storage of firearms. I would argue no, they do not. The absence of enforcement of a state statute does not in itself create a regulation, restriction, or prohibition on the storage of firearms. People are free to comply with the state law if they like without penalty from the county, after all.

Another problem for Rosenblum is that county officials have previously declared they would no longer enforce low-level drug offenses, and her office never filed a lawsuit over their decision to not enforce state law. It seems to me that Rosenblum is less outraged about county commissioners “overriding state law” than the fact that they’re standing in support of the Second Amendment.

We’ll see what happens with the lawsuit, but even if Rosenblum manages to get the ordinance thrown out, there’s no real way to prevent the intent behind it from being carried out. The sheriffs can decide on their own not to make enforcement of the storage law a priority, and the county prosecutors can choose not to use their office to enforce low-level gun control offenses just like Oregon prosecutors have decided to stop charging people with low-level drug offenses. That might take a little time and energy on the part of gun owners to make it happen, but it seems to me that 2A activists are already pretty engaged in these counties, so I’m optimistic that they could get it done if need be.