New York – Everytown Law announced that today, in a first-of-its-kind ruling and major setback for the “constitutional sheriffs” movement, the Oregon Court of Appeals has struck down the “Columbia County Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance” (SASO), which declared federal, state, and local gun safety laws “null and void and of no effect,” following a challenge joined by four residents of Columbia County, Oregon, represented by Everytown Law and the Oregon-based law firm Stoll Berne. Steve Berman of Stoll Berne argued the case for the residents. The county ordinance claimed to nullify state and federal gun laws. The local residents, who are veterans, survivors of gun violence, and parents of children in local schools, argued in a legal filing that this attempt to nullify state and federal laws violates both federal and Oregon law. One of the residents is a volunteer with the Oregon chapter of Moms Demand Action, one of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots networks.
“Today’s ruling is a win for public safety and the rule of law. The people of Oregon expect their local leaders to both put their safety first and to comply with state law and with the U.S. Constitution – picking and choosing which state and federal laws apply to them does neither,” said Eric Tirschwell, Executive Director for Everytown Law. “Opponents of gun safety laws have every right to advocate for change at the ballot box, statehouse, or Congress, but claiming to nullify them at the local level is both unconstitutional and dangerous.”
“We appreciate the integrity and independence of the Oregon courts, and the thoughtful, detailed analysis, reflected in the opinion and concurrence,” said Lydia Anderson-Dana from Stoll Berne, who participated in briefing the arguments on appeal.
The three-judge panel unanimously found that the SASO is preempted by Oregon’s firearms preemption law, as it “purports to nullify all firearm regulations enacted by the [Oregon] Legislative assembly.” The three-judge panel also observed that they “do not understand how the ordinance . . . could operate concurrently” with federal gun laws. In a concurring opinion, the former chief judge of the Court of Appeals went further, explaining that “deciding whether a law is unenforceable because it is unconstitutional is not the function of a county sheriff” and that “courts, not sheriffs” decide whether federal or state gun laws violate the Second Amendment, and concluding that “the Ordinance is repugnant to the separation of powers under the United State Constitution and Oregon Constitution, and is repugnant to the framers’ constitutional design. It debases – not protects – the rights guaranteed thereunder.”
In 2021, in the Circuit Court of Columbia County, the residents filed a notice joining a proceeding filed by Columbia County counsel, to ask the court to invalidate Ordinance 2021-1. The ordinance is based on a measure narrowly approved by Columbia County voters in the November election by just 525 votes and purports to invalidate nearly every state and federal gun safety law. The ordinance creates civil penalties and a private right of action against county officials who enforce those laws, exposing county employees and officials to liability for simply following state and federal law.
Similar litigation challenging a Missouri state-level nullification law is ongoing; Everytown Law filed an amicus brief in that litigation on behalf of a coalition of Missouri domestic violence shelters.
See Everytown Law’s analysis of similar sheriff resolutions around the country here.
Everytown Law is the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, which is part of Everytown for Gun Safety.