Yamhill County gun ordinance struck down
A circuit court judge has struck down Yamhill County's controversial Second Amendment sanctuary ordinance (SASO), characterizing it is an affront to state law.
The Oregon Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Yamhill County in October 2021 in response to the Board of Commissioners' adoption of the ordinance, claiming that the state is the last word on gun laws.
"A Yamhill County judge this morning ruled that the county cannot nullify gun laws within county borders," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said on Twitter. "This is a big win for gun safety in the county and the state."
Ordinance 913, adopted by the commission in April 2021 and patterned after ordinances adopted in other counties, barred county employees from enforcing or using county resources to enforce gun laws originating from the state or any other "extraterritorial" agency outside the county, as well as any statute relating to firearms.
The lawsuit sought judicial review (rather than a trial) in Yamhill and Harney counties, essentially asking judges to strike down or invalidate the ordinances and affirm that the state alone has the power to enact and enforce gun laws. The lawsuit also asked the courts to nullify the tenet in the ordinances that makes county employees who enforce state gun laws liable to prosecution or private lawsuits.
On July 8, the state saw its arguments affirmed.
"The ordinance is declared void in its entirety," Yamhill County Circuit Judge Ladd Wiles said, adding "I'm telling you, it's unconstitutional.
Mary Starrett, who authored the ordinance with fellow commissioner Lindsay Berschauer and outside counsel, said she wasn't surprised by the ruling.
"Not unexpected, considering the judicial bias in Oregon is the rule rather than the expectation," she said in an email. "Factor in an attorney general who set her sights on Yamhill County the minute our ordinance passed. The state's relentless citizen disarmament agenda (except for violent criminals, that is) played out in Yamhill County court last week."
Berschauer characterized the decision as an indicator of Wiles' political leanings.
"I am fully aware that judicial bias exists in Oregon," she said in an email. "In fact, many judges are appointed by politicians in power. (Rosenblum) has made her political views about Second Amendment rights known, and the fact that the state targeted Yamhill County's SASO proves a political agenda is at work here. There are up to 16 other SASOs (Second Amendment preservation ordinances) and resolutions that currently exist statewide in other counties and have been on the books for years. Yet, the AG decided to come after ours. It was purposeful and political."
Berschauer claimed that the "uproar" over the Legislature's 2021 passage of Senate Bill 554, which established storage requirements for gun owners and restricted holders of concealed handgun licenses' entrance to some public buildings, served to "create felons out of otherwise lawfully abiding firearm owners and carriers (and) has them nervous that other counties will follow our lead."
The commissioners voted 2-1 to pass its Ordinance 913 in April 2021. It took effect the following June and its lone opponent on the commission, Casey Kulla, said he expected it would be challenged eventually.
"It has been clear all along that the county ordinance was illegal," Kulla said in an email. "Our county attorneys argued that when the outside attorney presented this ordinance to us, and our district attorney and sheriff argued that when they were asked. The illegality was never in doubt."
The county could appeal Wiles' decision to a higher court but has yet to take action in that direction.
"We are having discussions about it," Berschauer said. "At the very least the state cannot tell us how to spend money and where resources have to be allocated and that may be where this conversation goes in the future."
Kulla was steadfast in his distaste for appealing the decision.
"Spending our county attorneys' time and spending money on the outside attorney has to stop," he said. "The Board of Commissioners has not discussed an appeal, but I will argue strongly against appealing.
"Your tax dollars and my tax dollars have been used to challenge gun safety laws, seemingly as part of a long-running challenge to any restrictions on guns from a misguided perspective on the U.S. and Oregon constitutions. … It needs to end. Yamhill County residents should not be part of the gun lobby's attempts to rewrite history and our constitution. Our rights to life and liberty should take priority."
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