COLUMBIA COUNTY, Oregon — Four residents of Columbia County, Oregon are urging a state court to invalidate a new ordinance that claims to nullify state and federal gun laws, arguing in a legal filing that the measure is unconstitutional and 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.
In a recent Notice filed in the Circuit Court of Columbia County, the residents joined 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 law relating to firearms meant to ensure the safety of the public. 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.
Everytown Law represents the residents challenging the ordinance, as does the Oregon-based law firm Stoll Berne. Everytown Law is the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, which is part of Everytown for Gun Safety.
“The residents we represent expect the county to comply with Oregon law and with the U.S. Constitution, both of which make clear that local governments don’t have the legal authority to pick and choose which public safety laws apply within their borders,” said Eric Tirschwell, managing director for Everytown Law. “Groups that oppose state and federal gun laws have every right to try to change them in the statehouse and Congress, but claiming to nullify them at the local level is both unconstitutional and dangerous. That’s not how our democracy works.”
“By claiming to nullify state and federal gun laws, this measure has complicated the work of local law enforcement officials and has undermined public safety for all of us,” said Robert Pile, a volunteer with Oregon Moms Demand Action. “We have a range of opinions in Columbia County on many issues, including gun laws, but tying the hands of law enforcement officials here in Columbia County is not the answer. Who wins if our local officials can’t take part in common-sense safety measures like criminal background checks on gun sales?”
The Oregon attorney general’s office has also urged the court to declare the ordinance invalid.
During the 2020 election cycle, judges in both Grant and Harney County concluded that initiative petitions nearly identical to the one narrowly passed in Columbia County were unconstitutional and ruled those initiatives could not be placed on the ballot. Clatsop County’s District Attorney, meanwhile, publicly criticized as unconstitutional a nearly identical measure that was rejected by Clatsop County voters.
As laid out in a letter earlier this year from the lawyers for the residents challenging the Columbia County ordinance:
- Under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Columbia County – like any local government – cannot contravene federal law.
- Well-settled Oregon law prohibits local governments from enacting measures that are incompatible with state law.
- The Columbia County ordinance claims to prohibit local law enforcement from enforcing state and federal gun laws, including state and federal law requiring gun dealers to perform a background check before selling a firearm.
- The Oregon Supreme Court has declared, “[l]ocal governments . . . are barred from . . . creating a ‘safe haven’ for outlaws by legalizing, within the boundaries of the city, that which the legislature has made criminal statewide.” City of Portland v. Jackson, 316 Or 143, 146 (1993).