County will appeal judge's decision striking down sanctuary ordinance
Officials vowed last week to continue Yamhill County's fight against state laws that restrict the use of firearms.
To that effect, the Board of Commissioners decided that it would appeal a July decision by Yamhill County Circuit Court Judge Ladd Wiles that struck down the county's Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance (SASO), ruling that it was counter to the laws of the state.
The county's April 18 decision was necessary as the deadline to file an appeal was two days later, advised County Counsel Christian Boenisch. He added that the timeline for the Court of Appeals to the hear the case will likely stretch into 2023. The appeal, which will be handled by outside counsel Tyler Smith, will cost the county roughly $20,000 to $25,000, Boenisch added.
The good news for the county, from the perspective of commissioners Mary Starrett and Lindsay Berschauer, is that the county's SASO ordinance will remain active while the appeal is being considered. Ordinance 913, adopted by the commission in April 2021 and patterned after ordinances adopted in other counties, bars 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.
A lawsuit filed by the state Department of Justice soon followed the ordinance's adoption and sought judicial review (rather than a trial) in Yamhill and Harney counties. It essentially asked 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.
Berschauer questioned the state's motives in singling out her jurisdiction.
"It's very frustrating to see that Yamhill County was essentially targeted," she said. "There are 16 or 17 others with SASOs, SAPOs, preservation ordinances across the state and yet here we are, we were the ones that were targeted."
She also bemoaned that decisions by state courts were not being scrutinized.
"It's also frustrating to see in other states that some of these decisions have been challenged, particularly in California, and they've been run up the chain and they're being deemed unconstitutional …," she said.
She also connected the state's actions to Measure 114, destined for the November general election ballot, that would place further restrictions on the purchase and ownership of firearms.
"And so you can sort of see what's going to happen down the line," she said. "It's going to take forever for someone to legally do anything around a firearm."
Commissioner Casey Kulla said he did not favor appealing the judge's decision, especially as a means of countering Measure 114. He suggested the county's time might be better spent trying to ensure the measure is defeated or address the unintended consequences that may result if the measure is adopted.
Starrett said that the impetus for creating the SASO was Senate Bill 554, 2021 legislation that required safe storage of firearms and restricted whether holders of concealed handgun licenses could carry in public buildings.
"(SB 554) was really quite onerous for law abiding gun owners," she said, adding that the emergence of Measure 114 is further justification for the county to maintain its SASO.
"Because it's basically going to eliminate law abiding gun owners … or the people that want to be gun owners, to defend themselves and their family," she said.
Starrett also claimed that passage of Measure 114 would be a death knell for youth shooting teams, recognizing successful programs in the county such as Newberg High School's trap shooting team.
"It will really impact youth shooting sports because of the limitations on magazine capacity in shotguns," she said.
Measure 114, if adopted, would ban firearms with magazines capable of holding more than 10 cartridges, but makes exceptions for those who currently own or who have inherited the firearms, as well as members of the armed forces and law enforcement personnel.
Starrett then pointed to her involvement in the Oregon Firearms Safety Coalition, which addresses suicide in the gun community.
"This ballot measure would virtually undo all the work we are doing, which is to basically create safe space and transfer in having somebody in crisis be able to remove the means of lethal force from their home," she said.
She also questioned the ability of sheriff office's to provide the firearms training required under Measure 114, saying that the only facilities equipped to provide such training are owned and operated by the few private clubs in the area.
"Law abiding gun owners are going to have to jump through these hoops, but we know the folks who are the ones committing the crimes are not going to go to the range, not going to go through this," she said. "It's going to cost the state — (between) $40 million and $51 million for training they will not be able to provide."
The commission then adjourned to executive session to discuss the appeal with outside counsel Smith, who was instrumental in the passage of the SASO in Yamhill County.
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