Second Amendment sanctuaries facing 1st court test
AP Photo/Andrew Selsky, File
FILE - In this Feb. 19, 2021, file photo, firearms are displayed at a gun shop in Salem, Ore.
AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez, File
Incident date: July 20, 2012
City/county: Aurora, Colorado
Family members stand outside Gateway High School where witnesses were brought for questioning after a gunman opened fire at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises Batman movie Friday, July 20, 2012 in Aurora, Colo.
AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File
Incident date: Dec. 14, 2012
City/county: Newtown, Connecticut
Parents leave a staging area after being reunited with their children following a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman opened fire, leaving 26 people dead, including 20 children on Dec. 14, 2012.
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File
Incident date: Sept. 16, 2013
City/county: Washington, D.C.
A police boat patrols near the scene of a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, in Washington. At least one gunman opened fire inside a building at the Washington Navy Yard.
AP Photo/David Goldman, File
Incident date: June 17, 2015
City/county: Charleston, South Carolina
Worshippers embrace following a group prayer across the street from the scene of a shooting at Emanuel AME Church, Wednesday, June 17, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. A white man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside the historic black church, killing multiple people, including the pastor, in an assault that authorities described as a hate crime.
AP Photo/Ryan Kang, File
Incident date: Oct. 1, 2015
City/county: Roseburg, Oregon
A woman is comforted as friends and family wait for students at the local fairgrounds after a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015.
AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File
Incident date: Dec. 2, 2015
City/county: San Bernardino, California
Authorities search for a suspect following a shooting that killed multiple people at a social services facility Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, in San Bernardino, Calif.
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File
Incident date: June 12, 2016
City/county: Orlando, Florida
Police officers direct family members away from a fatal shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Fla. A gunman massacred 49 people and wounded many others at the gay nightclub.
AP Photo/John Locher, File
Incident date: Oct. 1, 2017
City/county: Las Vegas, Nevada
In this Oct. 3, 2017, file photo, windows are broken at the Mandalay Bay resort and casino in Las Vegas, the room from where Stephen Craig Paddock fired on a nearby music festival, killed 58 and injuring hundreds on Oct. 1, 2017.
AP Photo/Eric Gay, File
Incident date: Nov. 5, 2017
City/county: Sutherland Springs, Texas
A law enforcement official walks past the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
AP Photo/Joel Auerbach, File
Incident date: Feb. 14, 2018
City/county: Parkland, Florida
Parents wait for news after a reports of a shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File
Incident date: May 18, 2018
City/county: Santa Fe, Texas
People react outside the unification center at the Alamo Gym, following a shooting at Santa Fe High School Friday, May 18, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas.
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File
Incident date: Oct. 27, 2018
City/county: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Students from the Yeshiva School in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, pay their respects as the funeral procession for Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz passes their school en route to Homewood Cemetery following a funeral service at the Jewish Community Center, Tuesday Oct. 30, 2018.
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Incident date: Nov. 7, 2018
City/county: Thousand Oaks, California
In this image taken from video a victim is treated near the scene of a shooting, Wednesday evening, Nov. 7, 2018, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. A hooded gunman dressed entirely in black opened fire on a crowd at a country dance bar holding a weekly "college night" in Southern California, killing multiple people and sending hundreds fleeing including some who used barstools to break windows and escape, authorities said Thursday. The gunman was later found dead at the scene.
AP Photo/Vicki Cronis-Nohe, File
Incident date: May 31, 2019
City/county: Virginia Beach, Virginia
A police chaplain heads toward Princess Anne Middle School in Virginia Beach, Va, on Friday, May 31, 2019. A longtime city employee opened fire at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, killing 11 people before police shot and killed him, authorities said. Six other people were wounded in the shooting, including a police officer whose bulletproof vest saved his life, said Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera.
AP Photo/Rudy Gutierrez, File
Incident date: Aug. 3, 2019
City/county: El Paso, Texas
An El Paso police officer talks to a store employee following a shooting at a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Multiple people were killed and one person was in custody after a shooter went on a rampage at a shopping mall, police in the Texas border town of El Paso said.
AP Photo/John Minchillo, File
Incident date: Aug. 4, 2019
City/county: Dayton, Ohio
Shoes are piled outside the scene of a mass shooting at Ned Peppers bar, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Nine people in Ohio were killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours.
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File
Incident date: Aug. 31, 2019
City/county: Midland, Texas
Law enforcement officials process the crime scene from a shooting which ended with the shooter being shot dead by police in a stolen mail van, right, in Odessa, Texas. The mass shooting in West Texas spread terror over more than 10 miles as the gunman fired from behind the wheel of a car.
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File
Incident date: March 16, 2021
City/county: Atlanta, Georgia
Law enforcement officials confer outside a massage parlor following a shooting on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Atlanta. Shootings at two massage parlors in Atlanta and one in the suburbs left eight people dead, several of them women of Asian descent, authorities said Tuesday.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File
Incident date: March 22, 2021
City/county: Boulder, Colorado
Police work on the scene outside a King Soopers grocery store where gunman killed 10 people on Monday, March 22, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File
Incident date: April 15, 2021
Police stand near the scene where multiple people were shot at the FedEx Ground facility early Friday morning, April 16, 2021, in Indianapolis. A gunman killed eight people and wounded several others before apparently taking his own life in a late-night attack at a FedEx facility near the Indianapolis airport, police said.
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The first court test of whether local governments can ban police from enforcing certain gun laws is playing out in a rural Oregon county, one of a wave of U.S. counties declaring itself a Second Amendment sanctuary.
The measure that voters in the logging area of Columbia County narrowly approved last year forbids local officials from enforcing most federal and state gun laws and could impose thousands of dollars in fines on those who try.
Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions have been adopted by some 1,200 local governments in states around the U.S., including Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Illinois and Florida, according to Shawn Fields, an assistant professor of law at Campbell University who tracks them. Many are symbolic, but some, like in Columbia County, carry legal force.
The movement took off around 2018, as states considered stricter gun laws in the wake of mass shootings, including a high school shooting near Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and made survivors into high-profile gun control activists.
After President Joe Biden took office, conservative lawmakers in several states proposed banning police from enforcing federal gun measures, and at least one proposal in Arizona has been signed into law.
The movement hasn’t yet faced a major legal challenge. The Oregon case was filed by Columbia County under an unusual provision in state law that allows a judge to examine a measure before it goes into effect. No timeline has been set for a court hearing.
“This will allow the court to tell us whether the county can actually decline to enforce certain state laws, and it will tell us how to abide by the will of the voters to the extent that we can,” said Sarah Hanson, who serves as counsel in the conservative-leaning county in deep-blue Oregon.
Supporters of the ordinance include the Oregon Firearms Federation, which said in a November statement that “extremists” and “big city radicals” were trying to curtail gun rights.
The group referenced Portland protests opposing police brutality that occasionally turned violent last summer and called the ordinance a “common sense” step that would “ensure your right and ability to defend your life and the lives of your loved ones.”
The ordinance would ban the enforcement of laws like background check requirements and restrictions on carrying a gun, though it would have exceptions for others, including keeping firearms from convicted felons.
The Oregon Firearms Federation didn’t respond to a request for comment on the court case.
Sheriff Brian Pixley has expressed support, saying in a March statement that one of his responsibilities is to uphold people’s Second Amendment rights and that he’s eager to “move forward with the will of the voters.”
The measure is divisive locally, though, and four residents filed court documents opposing it. One, Brandee Dudzic, referenced the strict gun safety drills she learned in military medic training, saying she values the right to own a gun but believes it should come with safety measures like background checks and secure storage.
A gun shop owner in Columbia County said he supports background checks and believes that “state law trumps the county law.” But he voted in favor of the Second Amendment measure on principle.
“We need to make sure that people are safe. We need to make sure that people are responsible,” he said. “But as more rules are in place, we just need to make sure that we’re not overregulated.”
He spoke on the condition he not be identified because some of his customers take a hard line against gun restrictions and he didn’t want to lose their business.
Everytown Law, an affiliate of the group Everytown for Gun Safety, is pushing for the measure to be overturned. Managing Director Eric Tirschwell said it would be the nation’s first court test amid the current wave of Second Amendment sanctuary laws.
Everytown argues that the ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution, which says federal law supersedes state law, as well as the state Constitution and an Oregon law that gives the state power to regulate firearms.
The decision won’t have a direct effect outside Oregon but could send a message.
“This case is important and should send the message that where state or local jurisdictions attempt to unconstitutionally or unlawfully nullify gun safety laws, we are prepared to and will go to court,” Tirschwell said.
Other laws trying to blunt the effect of federal gun restrictions haven’t fared well in court, including a 2009 Montana measure that made guns and ammunition manufactured in the state exempt from federal law and a similar 2013 measure in Kansas.
Many of the latest wave of measures, though, take a different tack by focusing on the actions of local police, including punishments like fines.
In terms of federal law, gun rights advocates may have a successful legal argument under the so-called anti-commandeering doctrine, which says the U.S. government can’t make state and local officials enforce federal law, said Darrell Miller, a professor of law at Duke Law School and co-faculty director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law. He agreed that the Oregon case is the first of its kind.
Local enforcement of state law, meanwhile, is another matter. Most states don’t have similar provisions in their own legal codes, and Oregon’s attorney general said in court documents that the Columbia County ordinance is “incompatible” with criminal law and the duties of county officials.
“To the extent the local government is trying to say, ‘We’re also not going to enforce state law either’ …. that’s a much more difficult and complicated position,” Miller said. “The authority of the state over localities is much, much stronger.”