Gun rights advocates and local armed Americans celebrated a victory in Columbus County, Oregon after Circuit Judge Ted E. Grove shot down a slick attack on the county’s Second Amendment sanctuary status.
Commissioners or the People?
In 2018, the people of Columbus County passed the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance (SAPO), which effectively created a sanctuary to protect against federal or even state laws that violate the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Not long after, in 2020, the people voted for the Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance (SASO), officially declaring the county a sanctuary. SASO and SAPO did indeed appear to serve the same purpose: protect the rights of Columbus County firearms owners from unconstitutional federal or state infringement. But the board of county commissioners, it now seems, may have had another plan.
In March 2021, the commissioners enacted Ordinance 2021-1 “under the authority of ORS 203.035 through ORS 203.075,” which establishes the county’s authority over “matters of county concern.” The stated purpose was to:
“[I]mplement the intent of the voters as demonstrated by the passage of Columbia County Initiative Measure 5-270, entitled ‘Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance,’ on November 6, 2018, and Initiative Measure 5-278, entitled ‘Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance,’ on November 3, 2020 (together the ‘Acts’).”
It goes on to explain that since many of the provisions of the Acts are the same having both is redundant. Section 4 repeals SAPO – an ordinance passed by the people – and leaves only the now-amended “Columbia County Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance.” And Section 6 – titled “Repealer” – may be what gave away the game:
“This Ordinance shall be automatically repealed if Columbia County Initiative Measure 5-270 or Initiative Measure 5-278 is, for any reason, overturned or declared invalid by a court of competent jurisdiction.”
Cue the Lawyers?
According to a county press release, the commissioners wanted this to undergo validation in the Columbia County Circuit Court because it “raises several important legal questions about what firearm regulations can be enforced in Columbia County.” Before too long, the Oregon attorney general and lawyers from Everytown for Gun Safety entered filings against the two ordinances, claiming they violate state and federal laws.
Circuit Judge Grove, however, wasn’t convinced. In his ruling, he stated:
“While a governing body may seek review of an ordinance, even one that incorporates initiative measures, judicial examination still requires a justiciable controversy. ORS 3.710(4). Petitioners have not demonstrated such a controversy.
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 even if challenged. Instead, Petitioners seek what amounts to an advisory opinion designed to invalidate their own newly passed ordinance.”
And what about the big city lawyers who joined in? “This lack of controversy is not cured by the appearance of intervenors,” he explained. “Petitioners do not have the authority to seek, and the court does not have the authority to grant, review of an ordinance without a justiciable controversy,” he concluded, as he officially dismissed the petition.
Due Diligence or Dastardly Deed?
Were county officials up to no good, or were they simply doing their due diligence to make sure the people are protected? County Counsel Sarah Hanson said, “to be clear, the County is not seeking to invalidate the Ordinance, only to get answers to the many legal questions raised by it.” She also, however, told the local paper, the Columbia County Spotlight, she strongly disagrees with Judge Grove and his dismissal of the case. It is yet unclear whether the county will appeal, though an appeal would certainly seem to support the allegation that the commissioners hoped to get their own ordinance invalidated.
The Oregon Firearms Federation didn’t pull any punches:
“It seems that elected employees and their appointee did not like the people stepping up to protect their RIGHTS; something that they should have done themselves but refused. The Syndicate in Columbia County decided to extirpate the will of the voter in a somewhat secretive way as to avoid repercussions.
The County Crooks on the Board of Commissioners along with the County Council Sarah Hanson, decided that since they could not get the SAPO and the SASO in front of a judge for judicial review, they would be tricky and blend the two laws that the people passed, make up a new SASO while throwing out the SAPO, for the purpose of getting their law in front of Judge Grove in order to have him throw it away, therefore leaving their hands clean. We believe this was illegal in several ways.”
Raven Chris Brumbles, a local resident, was both the chief petitioner for the original SAPO and SASO ordinances and the intervenor who petitioned to have the request for judicial review dismissed. Brumbles accused Hanson of being the “conspirator” who called in Everytown and of writing a “crippled version” of the two laws of the people by eliminating the penalties with the word “may” and cutting the severability clause entirely before asking for judicial review.
Whether the commissioners and county attorney really were engaged in a clever long con to end the Second Amendment sanctuary status or simply doing their best to cover all the bases, the law – or what’s left of it, anyway – still stands. It may be a “crippled version,” as Brumbles claims, but the sheriff is still prevented by county ordinance from infringing the right to keep and bear arms on behalf of the federal or state governments. That, at the very least, is a win for the people of Columbia County.
Read more from James Fite.