County clear on gun laws

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board December 11, 2013 08:17 am

Baker County’s Republican Central Committee asked the county’s three elected commissioners to approve a resolution supporting the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to keep and bear arms.

This seems to us a reasonable request, although the resolution has little if any legal significance considering the county commissioners have no authority to either write or to interpret the Constitution.

Commissioners do, however, swear an oath to uphold the Constitution and its amendments.

That the commissioners already have sworn that oath perhaps makes a Second Amendment resolution redundant, but as elected officials they ought to be responsive to their constituents.

And with one exception, which we’ll get to later, the commissioners were responsive.

Last Wednesday they approved, by a 2-0 vote (Commissioner Tim Kerns abstained), a modified version of the proposed resolution that the local GOP submitted.

Although some Republicans believe commissioners should have passed the submitted resolution without changes, the differences between the two documents seem semantic rather than meaningful.

The final clause in the resolution the commissioners approved gets to the heart of the matter: “... the Baker County Board of Commissioners goes on record as opposing further gun laws which would infringe on Baker County citizens rights to bear arms.”

That’s a pretty broad statement.

And a clear one.

A majority of the commission opposes any law that infringes on our rights under the Second Amendment.

By any reasonable definition this would include the very types of laws that Republicans usually cite when they express concerns about the sanctity of the Second Amendment — bans on so-called “assault weapons” for instance, or restrictions on ammunition magazines based on their capacity.

Both of those were restricted by a federal law that took effect in 1994 and expired in 2004. Some members of Congress would like to reinstitute that law, or a version of it, but so far they have failed. We believe this is a good thing because there is no evidence that banning certain guns and magazines had any beneficial effect.

The resolution the local GOP submitted to the commissioners included a clause stating that “ ‘assault weapons’ are also protected by the Second Amendment as part of a ‘well-regulated militia.’ ”

The version the commissioners approved omitted the preceding clause and included this one: “hunting firearms have long been utilized by our citizens and should not be classified as ‘assault weapons.’ ”

We don’t think either clause is necessary because the final clause of the resolution the commissioners approved, with its unambiguous opposition to any further gun law that infringes on citizens’ gun rights, supersedes both of the other clauses.

There’s no need, in a largely symbolic resolution, to get into what constitutes an “assault weapon” because any law dealing with such weapons obviously would qualify as a “gun law,” and we know, from the final clause of the resolution, that the two commissioners oppose any such law.

Which brings us to Kerns, the third commissioner.

He said he doesn’t believe that ownership of assault weapons or high-capacity magazines should be listed, in any resolution, as being clearly protected by the Second Amendment.

But rather than vote on the modified resolution that commissioners Fred Warner Jr. and Mark Bennett approved, Kerns abstained.

We think Kerns should have voted. If he disagrees with the resolution that his two colleagues endorsed, then he should be on record as such.