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County asks judge to review legality of ordinance blocking enforcement of most firearms laws

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Firearms for sale line the wall at a pawn shop.The Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance approved by Columbia County voters last November is headed to court.

Columbia County filed a petition for judicial validation for an ordinance adopted by the county commission earlier this year, which combined the SASO and the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance, or SAPO, which was approved by voters in 2018.

The SAPO passed with 54.9% of the vote, while only 50.9% of voters were in favor of the SASO.

The SASO and the county ordinance prohibit the county from using any resources, including money or employee time, to enforce laws or regulations on an individual's right to keep and bear arms. The ordinance lays out examples of "extraterritorial acts" that could not be enforced, and calls on the elected sheriff to determine if any federal, state or local regulations violate the United States or Oregon constitutions.

Oregon statute allows the county's governing board to ask the circuit court to review any action taken by the county board to ensure it is legal. The county board of commissioners adopted the ordinance last month and then filed the petition for judicial validation in circuit court.

The state statute only provides that avenue for judicial review for decisions made by the governing body, not measures approved by voters, so the county adopted an effectively identical ordinance in order to use the judicial review process.

A circuit court judge will evaluate the ordinances and determine if the measure is unconstitutional or otherwise enforceable.

The judicial validation petition lays out 21 potential issues that could make the ordinance invalid.

If enforced, the ordinance could prohibit the sheriff and sheriff's deputies from enforcing most firearms regulations. The district attorney and deputy DAs could be unable to pursue charges for breaking firearms laws (though committing a crime with a firearm would still be prosecuted). The Columbia County Justice Court, which handles some misdemeanor cases, could be prevented from handling cases involving firearm offenses. Parole and probation officers could be unable to enforce criminal firearms laws. In all these cases, the inability to enforce laws could put deputies, prosecutors, judges, parole officers and others in conflict with their statutory job descriptions or oaths of office.

The ordinance only applies to county employees and funds. Scappoose police could make an arrest on firearms charges, but the suspect couldn't be lodged in the county jail or prosecuted by the district attorney.

The county also asked the court to judge if the elected sheriff has the authority "to make binding determinations as to whether any federal, state or local regulation affecting firearms violate either the federal or state constitution."

State law says that the ability to regulate firearms "is vested solely in the Legislative Assembly," aside from a few exceptions defined in state statute.

"ORS 166.170, the Firearms Preemption Statute, thus appears to preempt all regulation of firearms, whether more restrictive or less restrictive than Oregon law, except as specifically set forth by other statute," county attorneys wrote in the court filing.

The county attorney listed 30 Oregon criminal firearms laws that are likely in conflict with the SAPO, SASO, and county ordinance.

The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution says that the constitution and federal law take precedence over state laws and constitutions. The county listed a handful of federal firearms laws that would likely be in conflict with the county ordinance.

Similar firearms measures were on the ballot in three other counties last November. Clatsop County overwhelmingly rejected the measure, with both the district attorney and sheriff saying they opposed the measure, The Astorian reported. The measures failed in Coos County and passed in Umatilla County. The Yamhill County Board of Commissioners approved a similar measure last month.

An earlier version of the SASO in Columbia County had been rejected by the county clerk. Under the Oregon constitution, the county clerk is charged with determining if initiative petitions meet general criteria to appear on a ballot.

Chris Brumbles, who filed the SASO, filed a lawsuit challenging the clerk's determination, but the court determined that clerk was right to reject the measure. A later version of the SASO was approved by the clerk.

The county last went through a judicial validation proceeding more than a decade ago. In 2008, voters had narrowly approved a measure to fine and revoke permits and licenses of businesses that employed undocumented immigrants.

Columbia County Circuit Court Judge Ted Grove determined that ordinance was unenforceable for multiple reasons. One of those reasons was that a federal law explicitly preempted state or local laws imposing most civil or criminal sanctions for employing undocumented immigrants.

The judicial validation process was also used by Columbia 9-1-1 Communications District in 2019, after voters approved a tax measure with a typographic error in it.

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