Baker County voters in November overwhelmingly approved an ordinance designed to prevent the enforcement of laws violating the Second Amendment and the ordinance could receive its first test later this year.
At least 12 bills have been introduced in the Oregon Legislature that deal with firearms or ammunition in some way.
Senate Bill 501, which has received the most publicity, is also the most restrictive. It would require gun buyers to acquire a permit, limit people from possessing guns with a capacity of no more than five rounds, limit the amount of ammunition a person can buy to 20 rounds in a 30-day period, require background checks for ammunition purchases and require gun owners to secure firearms with a trigger or cable lock.
SB 501 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee where it might go through revisions.
Meanwhile, Baker County voters — by margin of 5,463 to 2,752 — have joined those in eight other Oregon counties in approving a Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance.
The ordinance prohibits the county sheriff from using county money or employees to enforce any law that infringes on citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
The ordinance also requires the sheriff to review local, state and federal laws to determine whether any violates the Oregon or federal constitution.
What’s not clear is whether the ordinance itself is legally enforceable.
Multiple lawyers in Oregon have said that the ordinance might not be binding.
A state law — ORS 166.170 — gives the state the sole authority to regulate firearm sales, possession, transportation, use and any other elements relating to firearms. The law also voids any ordinance that a city or county enacts related firearm regulations.
But Suzan Ellis Jones, chair of the Baker County Republican Party, which put the Second Amendment ordinance on the November ballot, contends that state law violates both the Oregon and federal constitution.
Jones believes the county’s ordinance is constitutional. She said multiple attorneys reviewed the ordinance before it went to voters.
As mentioned, the local official potentially most affected by the new ordinance is the county sheriff.
Sheriff Travis Ash said that after attending a meeting with other county sheriffs earlier this month, he doesn’t expect SB 501 will become law.
Ash said he opposes both that bill and any other that would infringe on Second Amendment rights.
He doesn’t think he’ll have to decide whether to enforce any new laws that could conflict with the new county ordinance because he believes any unconstitutional laws would be challenged in court.
Jones said she assumes Ash would enforce the ordinance if necessary. Jones believes that if the sheriff failed to do so, voters would seek to replace him in the 2020 election (Ash was elected to a four-year term in 2016).
“In Baker County we’ve got a pretty good sheriff and we are trusting that he will uphold the Second Amendment ordinance,” Jones said. “If he doesn’t, God help him because the Baker voters could be pretty unforgiving.”
Republican state Sen. Cliff Bentz, who represents Baker County and other areas of Eastern Oregon, is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Bentz is one of three Republicans on the seven-person committee. Since November the Democrats have held a supermajority in both chambers of Oregon’s Legislature. To pass gun laws the legislature requires only a simple majority vote.
“If Oregon keeps pushing this, I kind of am fearful of what will happen,” Jones said. “I don’t think the people are going to be pushed on the Second Amendment issues. Nobody’s taking our guns.”