Back in 2020, voters in Oregon’s Columbia County approved a referendum establishing their community as a “Second Amendment sanctuary” that also empowered the county sheriff to decide what, if any, gun laws would be enforceable within his jurisdiction. County commissioners, some of whom were none too happy about the citizens initiative being approved, asked a county judge to weigh in on the legality of the ordinance not long after, but in 2021 Judge Ted Grove declined to do so, writing in his decision that the county officials “seek what amounts to an advisory opinion designed to invalidate their own newly passed ordinance.”
That didn’t end the case, however. Everytown for Gun Safety and Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum intervened in appealing the case up to the Oregon Court of Appeals, as did Gun Owners of America, and on Wednesday the court released its opinion, ruling that counties don’t have the power under Oregon law to prohibit agencies from enforcing state-level gun control laws. While that decision may not have been much of a surprise for reasons we’ll discuss in a few paragraphs, the concurring opinion from Chief Judge Jim Egan is definitely raising some eyebrows after he accused Second Amendment sanctuary supporters of being racist and anti-Semitic.
“During the course of argument, Intervenor’s counsel referred to alleged United Nations (UN) and ‘international firearms laws.’ Those references allude to the conspiracy theory that the UN has or will impose mandates upon the federal government that will require state and local governments to do the bidding of the UN, specifically to disarm the American public in violation of the Second Amendment,” Egan wrote.
“In other words, Intervenors came before this court and referenced UN mandates, which, as explained below, is a well-documented trope meant to invoke white supremacist, antisemitic fear of a takeover of our country by outsiders and minorities who are manipulated by an elite class of supervillains,” he continued.
Egan asserted that the sanctuary jurisdiction policies advocated by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) – which Columbia County’s ordinance was based on – “have their origins in the ideology of white supremacist nationalism which runs contrary to the tenets of our constitutional republic.”
In his 10-page concurrence, Egan argues that courts have the power to decide which laws are constitutional, not sheriffs; that the Columbia County ordinance is “repugnant to the separation of powers under the United States Constitution and the Oregon Constitution”; and that the constitutional sheriff’s movement is animated by deeply flawed and ahistorical legal theories based in antisemitic writings and advocated for by White supremacists.
“These ideas are, of course, nothing new, unique, or intelligent,” Egan wrote. “They are, instead, just a rehashing of the ancient trope of a secret Jewish government; they are the retelling of a lie that led to the murder of over six million Jews within living memory.”
Egan’s comments are a despicable and grotesque attempt at character assassination; not just against the Gun Owners of America attorneys defending Columbia County’s voter-approved initiative, but against the voters themselves and all other Second Amendment sanctuary supporters. It’s also completely illogical. If the voters in Columbia County were really a bunch of white supremacists intent on stopping a “takeover” by minorities, they would have rejected the Second Amendment sanctuary designation, which was meant to ensure all citizens maintain access to their Second Amendment rights.
“While we are very disappointed in this ruling against the clear vote of the people, we are more alarmed by the raucous secondary opinion by Judge Egan,” said Erich Pratt, senior vice president for GOA. “These vitriolic accusations and opinionated commentary have no basis in fact or the law, and the radical viewpoints held by this judge are dangerous to constitutional doctrine and principle.
The Oregon Firearms Federation blasted Egan’s opinion in a news release, calling his accusations a “lie” and “defamatory.”
“We have come to expect these kinds of mindless and false attacks from the left and their pawns in the media,” the group said. “But coming from the bench, this kind of blatantly false and hate filled rhetoric, is not only unsettling, it is dangerous. It inspires violence and retribution. It is frankly, unhinged.”
It’s absolutely unhinged, and it recalls some of the most rabid opposition to the civil rights struggle in the South in the 1950s and 60s, where segregations accused anyone who dared advocate for equal rights to be secret Communists intent on destroying the country. Egan’s effort to smear voters as bigots is just as reprehensible, and says far more about the judge and his judicial temperament than it does the people of Columbia County.
As for the actual meat of the ruling, I think the biggest problem that the defenders of the ordinance face is that it does appear to grant the sheriff powers not given to him under state law. Law enforcement must be able to use discretion in how to enforce the statutes on the books, but the ordinance approved by voters states that “All local, state and federal acts, laws, rules or regulations, originating from jurisdictions outside of Columbia County, which restrict or affect an individual person’s general right to keep and bear arms, including firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition… shall be treated as if they are null, void and of no effect in Columbia County, Oregon” unless a sheriff specifically determined that they didn’t violate anybody’s constitutional rights.
That language is problematic from a legal perspective, but there are other ways to accomplish the same goal. Egan says its not up to sheriffs to determine whether a law is enforceable, but it’s still very much up to sheriffs (and police chiefs and prosecutors) to determine if a particular law will be enforced, and under what circumstances. In Multnomah County, for instance, District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s office is prosecuting less than half of all misdemeanor theft cases; a decision that’s frustrated many business owners and retailers in Portland, but one that is within Schmidt’s authority. Other liberal prosecutors in states like Texas have said they won’t enforce any state-level anti-abortion measures, and there are a host of prosecutors around the country who no longer bring charges against those found with small amounts of narcotics.
I’ve reached out to Columbia County Sheriff Brian Pixley for a comment on how the appellate court’s decision will impact his office and enforcement priorities, as well as his take on Egan’s portrayal of the ordinance as rooted in racism and anti-Semitism, and I look forward to hearing and sharing any response.