Gun rights activists are proposing a new ordinance to make Umatilla County the gun-toting land of the free. But county officials counter the proposal is unconstitutional.
County voters in November passed the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance restricting the county from using resources to enforce state or federal laws that infringe on the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. The ordinance also designates the sheriff as the authority to decide what is and what is not constitutional.
Jesse Bonifer of Athena was one of the key petitioners who worked to get the ordinance on the ballot. Now, he wants the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners to refer a Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance to the voters to supersede the one they approved five months ago. He said voters already said yes to this idea once, and the proposal cuts out the language making the sheriff the arbiter of the law and puts the authority in the hands of the people.
“We are just making it better,” Bonifer said.
The sanctuary ordinance runs for five pages and is another boilerplate piece from Rob Taylor of Bandon, an Oregon gun rights activist who was behind the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance, which several counties passed, and the head of the Committee for the Preservation of the Second Amendment. The sanctuary ordinance asserts “all local, state, and federal acts, orders, rules or regulations regarding firearms, firearms accessories, and ammunition or a violation of the second amendment,” local governments have the authority to refuse to work with state and federal gun laws, and they can proclaim a “Second Amendment Sanctuary for law-abiding citizens and their cities and counties.”
The sanctuary ordinance prohibits anything that restricts the ownership of non-fully automatic weapons, and, like the preservation ordinance, sets up civil fines for violators, up to $2,000 for a person and $4,000 for a corporation.
Bonifer said he talked with Commissioner John Shafer and Sheriff Terry Rowan about the new ordinance and met with Commissioner George Murdock. Those conversations led to the commissioners putting the item on the agenda for their Wednesday meeting starting at 9 a.m. at the Umatilla County courthouse Pendleton.
Murdock, the board chairman, said the county is not referring this to the voters.
“Our assessment is we cannot put it on the ballot because it’s not constitutional,” he said.
That is the recommendation of county counsel Doug Olsen, who explained the law in Oregon requires measures to include the full text, but the proposal does not itemize all it would do.
“So by doing that, you don’t know what you’re voting for,” he said. “It’s not sufficient to know what you are adopting.”
That is the primary reason the Columbia County Clerk’s Office in January rejected an initiative petition to put the sanctuary ordinance on the ballot there.
The petitioner, Chris Brumbles of Deer Island, then filed a request in circuit court for a review of the county’s decision. Judge Ted Grove on April 12 ruled the clerk was right to reject the proposal.
The measure would nullify any state or federal laws restricting the use or possession of guns, Grove found, and lacks a full list of the prohibitions it would establish, thus a voter would not know what other laws the measure would curtail. This ambiguity, Grove stated, violates the constitutional requirement.
Bonifer, however, said he is still going to make his case Wednesday morning. He said the county needs to take a stand because the Legislature is considering laws that would erode the gun rights of Oregonians. He also has spread the word about the county meeting and the proposal.
“I’m hoping there’s going to be quite a few people show up,” Bonifer said.
“It should be a very interesting meeting.”