Voters in 10 Oregon counties will decide on Second Amendment Preservation Ordinances this Election Day. The ordinances state that county residents have the right to own semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines, and the right to own firearms without any registration requirement.
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The ordinances also call on county sheriffs to decide whether state and federal gun laws are constitutional, and prohibit the use of county resources to enforce any laws deemed unconstitutional.
The measures were written and shepherded through the ballot initiative process by the Committee to Protect the Second Amendment, an organization run by Coos County resident Rob Taylor. Members of militia groups like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters took lead roles as well.
In Douglas County, Sheriff John Hanlin supports the ordinance before voters there, but says it’s mostly just a message.
“The main purpose of the ordinance is sort of raising the flag in support of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America,” Hanlin said.
And although Hanlin was clear that interpreting the constitution is not part of his job or something that he’s qualified to do, this isn’t his first foray into the issue.
In 2013, after the Sandy Hook school shooting, the federal government was considering restrictions on some types of gun sales. Hanlin gained national attention after he wrote a letter to Vice President Biden saying “any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the President offending the Constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or by my deputies.”
While Hanlin and the Second Amendment are both popular in Douglas County, even some of his supporters are skeptical of the gun rights ordinances.
Mitchell Randall said Hanlin is a family friend he’s known his entire life. And Randall said he trusts Hanlin, but is less sure about other sheriffs.
“I don’t like the idea,” Randall said. “John Hanlin is the man … but I don’t know about those other guys.”
In neighboring Coos County, Sheriff Craig Zanni technically has the power granted by the Second Amendment ordinances. Voters there passed a similar initiative with 60 percent support in 2015.
Like Hanlin, Zanni supported the initiative with the caveat that it’s probably illegal.
“I was very clear. I don't think you can enforce it, but I think it makes a great statement,” Zanni said. “Leave us alone. If we're not doing something wrong, why are you bothering to put more responsibility on us?”
But not everyone sees the measures as a mere formality.
Tom McKirgan spent 17 years as a police officer and is a member of the Three Percenters militia. He’s the Southern Oregon coordinator for Taylor’s Committee to Protect the Second Amendment, and helped draft the Douglas County ordinance.
Standing in front of his Camas Valley home with enormous campaign signs behind him, McKirgan said this isn’t just a statement.
“They can’t use any county resources to enforce these draconian laws. So if they show up on my property and want to assist another agency with taking my firearms, then there’s a $2,000 fine per incident on the officer and $4,000 for the agency,” McKirgan explained. “People are upset down here in the south because the people up north, they’re trying to tell us how to live down here…. And we're just not going to take it anymore.”
At a recent campaign event sponsored by the gun control group Moms Demand Action, Gov. Kate Brown said the law in Oregon is very clear.
“We moved forward on legislation in the ’90s to clarify that any gun regulations need to be developed at the state level because of challenges of enforcement at the local level from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,” she said.
But Taylor said he and his committee are prepared for the courts to strike down the ordinances. They’ve already written an updated version without the controversial sheriff clause if that happens.
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