One county in Oregon is allowing the local sheriff to ignore whatever gun laws he deems unconstitutional.
According to this story from foxnews.com, the decision by voters to give him this authority could put the sheriff in the middle of a Second Amendment firestorm that may have to be resolved in court.
Residents in Coos County, Oregon passed the gun rights measure last week with more than 60 percent support, the story says. What brought about the question on the ballot? The story says it was the state’s new background check law, which Sheriff Craig Zanni wasn’t actively enforcing anyway, but the ballot measure puts more pressure on him to defy state and even federal gun laws.
The measure specifically bars the county from using government resources to enforce any “unconstitutional” laws that infringe on the right to bear arms—and declares “it shall be the duty” of the sheriff to decide which laws are constitutional and which are not, the story says.
Zanni told The Oregonian he’s a supporter of gun rights, but has voiced concerns over what he’s legally allowed to do.
Before the vote, he told the paper that he was concerned “about the wording” of the ballot measure, particularly the notion that the sheriff should scrutinize the constitutionality of laws.
“I’m not sure the courts would agree with that concept,” he said. “I would just bet there would be some legal challenges to it.”
The new background check law, which took effect in August 2015, requires background checks for private gun transactions. According to The Oregonian, Zanni isn’t the only local sheriff or county commission that hasn’t been enforcing the new law.
Criminal and mental health checks are required for private gun transfers, which is a tough adjustment for Oregon residents long accustomed to lending, swapping, buying, and selling their firearms without any government involvement.
As for the ballot measure, one of its sponsors, Rob Taylor, said they hope it’s challenged in court, confirming what The Oregonian wrote, that the measure is less about protecting Second Amendment rights and more about making a statement.
“One of the reasons we enacted this measure is that we wanted to challenge (the state’s) background check law through the judicial process,” Taylor said. “The problem is we’re just average citizens. We don’t have a lot of money, so we can’t just take these challenges to court. Lawyers cost a lot of money and court fees cost a lot of money.”
By doing it this way, Taylor says he and his compatriots hope it will allow a challenge of the background check law without an individual court challenge.
“We’ve put it in the realm of being an actual ordinance so that one government entity will have to challenge another government entity without forcing individuals to have to pay for it themselves,” Taylor said in this story from The Daily Signal.
Before the law was enacted, it was unknown how many private transfers occur annually in Oregon.
In all likelihood, the measure will be defeated in court.
Andrew Kloster, a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal that the sheriff is an agent of the state and has to abide by state law—but, if the state passes a law that requires its officials, like the sheriff, to violate the Second Amendment, individual citizens could pursue a lawsuit or he could resign.