Oregon gun-rights advocates found themselves on the losing end of a legal battle Wednesday after a state court ruled two of their favored policies are legally incompatible.
A three-judge panel for the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that a Columbia County ordinance attempting to nullify all state and federal gun laws violated the state’s firearm preemption law. The judges found the county’s broad Second Amendment Sanctuary law could not stand in light of state law that prevents localities from enacting their own gun regulations.
“The Ordinance, with limited exception, purports to nullify all firearm regulations enacted by the Legislative Assembly,” Judge Douglas Tookey wrote on behalf of the court. “If allowed to stand, it would, effectively, create a ‘patchwork quilt’ of firearms laws in Oregon, where firearms regulations that applied in some counties would not apply in Columbia County, which is what ORS 166.170 was enacted to avoid.”
The ruling deals a blow to the “Second Amendment Sanctuary” movement, which has gained momentum in recent years as localities around the country have grown increasingly active in fighting against state gun-control efforts. It is one of the first rulings to pit a gun-control nullification ordinance and state preemption of firearms regulation—both typically supported by gun-rights advocates—against one another. The decision is also among the first to use state preemption laws against a local provision seeking to eliminate gun restrictions rather than those seeking to increase them.
The ruling overturns a lower court decision dismissing a challenge to the ordinance by county officials, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D.), and Everytown for Gun Safety.
The legal fight stems from two citizen-initiated ordinances passed by the voters of Columbia County in 2018 and 2020 that push the outer limits of what sanctuary advocates have pursued in recent years. The resolutions, which were combined in 2021 and dubbed the “Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance,” barred all county employees from enforcing “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.”
The ordinance further asserts that “it should be self-evident from the compounding evidence that the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental individual right that shall not be infringed and all local, state, and federal acts, laws, orders, rules or regulations regarding firearms, firearms accessories, and ammunition are a violation of the Second Amendment.”
It also established a $2,000 fine for individuals who violated the terms of the ordinance and created a private cause of action for citizens to sue government officials personally for enforcing any gun laws originating outside the county.
Shortly after the ordinance was finalized, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners filed a petition in state court seeking a ruling on the legality of the decree passed by its constituents. That attempt was dismissed in July of 2021 after Judge Ted Grove ruled that the law did not yet create “a justiciable controversy” just because County officials disfavored it. The county board and the Oregon Attorney General’s office appealed that decision, leading to Wednesday’s ruling.
Gun-control advocates, who typically fight against both Second Amendment Sanctuary ordinances and state firearms preemption, celebrated the ruling that struck down one of the policies they generally disfavor by using another.
“Today’s ruling is a win for public safety and the rule of law,” Eric Tirschwell, who helped challenge the ordinance in court on behalf of Everytown Law, said in a statement. “The people of Oregon expect their local leaders to both put their safety first and to comply with state law and with the U.S. Constitution – picking and choosing which state and federal laws apply to them does neither.”
Gun Owners of America, who defended the ordinance in court, did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling or any plans to appeal it.