When Columbia County resident Chris Brumbles collected signatures for a ballot measure to have gun rights enforced as part of county law, he said some people didn’t take him seriously.
“I had a couple of people, when I was collecting, tell me, ‘You’re crazy, they’re never coming after our guns,’” Brumbles said.
But when advocates in Portland filed a proposal for an Oregon ban on some types of semi-automatic weapons this year, he said his critics joined him.
Brumbles’s effort is part of a growing statewide movement to implement what proponents call “Oregon Second Amendment preservation ordinances” at the county-level. The efforts come, in part, as a response to Initiative Petition 43, which Portland-based interfaith leaders filed a month after a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead.
IP 43 would restrict the ownership, production and sale of some types of semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Across Oregon, people like Brumbles have filed initiatives that would allow Oregon counties to essentially ignore future gun laws a county sheriff deems unconstitutional.
And the movement is picking up support because of IP 43.
When Brumbles initially turned in his signatures in March, he was 71 short. Two weeks later — after gun-control advocates submitted their signatures — Brumbles came back with 301 more than required.
Columbia County residents will vote on his ballot measure during the November election.
So far, people in six other Oregon counties have filed similar ballot measure proposals — and they hope to get before voters in each of those counties as well.
The statewide effort is being coordinated by Rob Taylor, a Coos County resident who leads the movement’s Committee to Preserve the Second Amendment.
Oregon counties have been passing so-called Second Amendment preservation ordinances since 2013. In Wallowa County, a man named Leo Castillo wrote the original ordinance and got it passed through his county’s board of commissioners. Wheeler County followed in 2015 and Curry County in 2016.
Taylor had to take a different path.
In 2015, when he brought the proposal to the Coos County board of commissioners, it met opposition. That is when Taylor decided to take the issue to voters. That year, Coos County voters passed a ballot measure that allows the county to restrict funding for gun laws passed by state lawmakers.
Since then, Taylor has helped other counties file similar ballot measure proposals. He said his group has taken cues from sheriffs in California who reject state immigration laws.
“We thought if that could be done on immigration, then why not use that same principle for the Second Amendment laws that are coming out of the [Oregon] Legislature?” Taylor said. “This does not regulate firearms, it just allows the sheriff to use his discretionary authority to decide whether something is constitutional or not. And it allows the county to defund resources that would go to upholding that part of the law.”
Taylor has big plans. He said his organization is coordinating efforts with petitioners in 32 out of Oregon’s 36 counties.
In six counties — Deschutes, Klamath, Baker, Lane, Umatilla, Columbia and Grant — petitioners have successfully filed to start the initiative process, according to county elections offices. With the exception of Columbia County, where petitioners have already met signature requirements, the rest are in the process of gathering signatures to get the proposals on the ballot.
Taylor said the campaign has had little financial support. He said that, so far, finances have come solely from local chief petitioners.
Initiative Petition 43, Taylor added, has escalated support for his campaign.
Rabbi Michael Cahana, a chief petitioner for IP 43, said he believes efforts by Taylor and others are misguided.
“Our ballot measure isn’t proposing an end to guns in our state. It makes perfect sense to have guns for hunting, it makes perfect sense to have guns for self-defense. They are a tool and there is value to the tools in certain instances,” Cahana said. “But we believe that assault weapons go beyond those needs. They are the weapon-of-choice for people who choose to commit mass murder. And one very simple step to prevent those mass murders are to make those guns unavailable.”
But Taylor said he thinks IP 43 “goes too far” and that officials should focus on enforcing current gun laws, not implementing new ones. State legislators should prioritize punishing criminals and treating those will mental illness, he said.
“Cars are readily available and cars are being used to kill people,” Taylor said. “It’s not the weapon, it’s the person wielding the weapon that we should deal with.”
Imam Muhammad A. Najieb, another IP 43 petitioner, said that leaning on mental illness to reject gun control has been happening “for too long.”
“That type of argument is very weak because here we are again saying, ‘Oh, he’s mentally ill,’” Naijeb said. “Well, if he’s mentally ill, why didn’t you help him adjust to mental illness then and not let him have access to those type of weapons?”
Some legal experts are skeptical of what effect the Second Amendment protections by counties might have if they're challenged in court.
Lewis & Clark College professor Tung Yin said if these county ballot measures pass and a sheriff chooses not to enforce state gun laws, county law would most likely lose out to state gun legislation.
“There is something illegitimate if you simply say that we are going to instruct the sheriff not to enforce the gun laws at all,” Yin said. “I mean, could a president direct the attorney general to say, ‘You know what, I think the federal drug laws are bad. We can’t get Congress to repeal it, but I’ll just instruct U.S. attorneys to not bring any drug cases at all?’”
Whether or not the measures will pass legal muster may be an open question, but Taylor and Brumbles both say they’re confident they can get Oregon voters to pass their measures in the fall.