Oregon Attorney General sues Yamhill, Harney counties to enforce new gun laws

By Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
Oct. 1, 2021 11:59 p.m. Updated: Oct. 2, 2021 12:02 a.m.

She wants courts to strike down county ordinances that would punish local officials who enforce new state gun restrictions.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sued two Oregon counties Friday to stop their efforts to get around Oregon’s new gun laws.

During the last legislative session, Oregon lawmakers required gun owners to securely store their weapons when not in use. The bill also banned the possession of guns in the state Capitol and at Portland International Airport and paved the way for public schools and universities to enact their own bans.


In response, Yamhill and Harney counties adopted new ordinances circumventing the state law.

Each county has declared itself a “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” in which the new state firearms laws are void. Their ordinances prohibit county officials from upholding the new state gun laws by imposing fines, criminal charges and even the possibility of civil suits for any enforcement action.

A cable lock wraps around a gun.

Sgt. Brandon White of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office puts a cable lock on a training Glock on Jan. 14, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. The sheriff's office gives out gun locks for free to anyone who wants one.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

The Oregon Department of Justice lawsuit filed Friday asks the courts to void the local ordinances because state law declares counties don’t have the authority to regulate firearms.

Rosenblum is not happy officials, who enforce the state’s laws, might be prosecuted and subjected to private lawsuits, “Gun safety laws exist to help keep guns out of dangerous hands and keep people safe. A county commission simply doesn’t get to override state law in this way,” Rosenblum said in a written statement. “The laws of Oregon remain fully in force – and fully enforceable – notwithstanding these invalid ordinances. No officials should be frightened out of properly doing their job by the threat of illegitimate criminal charges or bogus lawsuits.”

Harney County Judge Pete Runnels, the head of the county’s administrative branch, declined to comment on the state action.

Other Oregon counties have enacted similar ordinances. Rosenblum hopes suing Harney and Yamhill counties will block similar efforts elsewhere.

“These actions will hopefully send the message that we are prepared to preserve the rule of law across our state,” she said.