Oregon & The Gun Sanctuary Movement

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JUNE 5, 2019

Last fall, The Advocate reported on a new type of local sanctuary law being passed in counties around Oregon, known broadly as “Second Amendment sanctuary” laws. They give local law enforcement officials like sheriffs the authority to interpret whether state and federal gun laws conflict with the Second Amendment of the Constitution, and allows them to restrict local resources from being used to enforce conflicting laws.

Eight Oregon counties passed a version of this law in last November’s elections: Baker, Columbia, Douglas, Klamath, Lake, Linn, Umatilla and Union. Two counties, Lincoln and Jackson, rejected it.

Supporters believe they are a necessary legal defense against state and federal governments passing laws which infringe on their legal right to carry firearms. Some legal experts and supporters of gun control laws argue localities like cities and counties cannot decide for themselves to override federal and state law.

In Oregon, gun rights activists and members of controversial militia groups backed these laws, and are beginning to turn success at the ballot box into a national movement of localities passing these laws in order to “nullify” state and federal gun control laws. Some of these “nullification” laws are being challenged in the courts, and the outcome of these political and legal battles has the potential to affect the entire legal framework for sanctuary cities, including those established to protect illegal immigrants from federal immigration enforcement.

From Congress to City Council
Much of the debate around gun control has historically centered around Washington, D.C., using the time-tested tools of influence like expensive lobbying to control outcomes in the law. Today, the important political fight has moved to city council chambers.

This shift down into states and counties was precipitated by a few things. One is the dissolving importance of the NRA, partly because of federal gridlock on gun control issues and partly because of the NRA’s own internal struggles with allegations of corruption and financial insolubility. The other is that, as conservatives and Republicans have steadily gained power in local and state governments over the last 10 years, they have realized how much states are capable of doing outside the purview of the federal government. The stark difference between the gun laws of California and Arizona demonstrates the effectiveness of this local political power.

The Pacific Northwest, and Oregon in particular, is no stranger to the more libertarian aspects of gun control politics, some of which is referred to as the “Patriot Movement.” During the 2016 Malheur Wildlife Refuge standoff, occupiers claimed their protest was over land use. However, before and after the occupation, reports focused on the amount of weaponry occupiers brought. An Idaho man who joined the occupiers was later arrested on multiple federal weapons charges, including the possession of a stolen Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun.

Sanctuary from the Law
According to the Pew Research Center, more than 200 counties across nine states have voted not to enforce state gun control laws. Oregon, along with, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Washington all have counties which have passed “nullification” laws known as Second Amendment sanctuary laws. In five of these states (CO, IL, NM, NY, WA), at least half of the state’s counties have passed a version of this law.

The majority of these counties have passed these laws within the last year, in tandem with an increased urgency for the passage of gun control legislation at the state level. Reporting from The New York Times and The Giffords Center showed that in 2017, 20 bills were passed nationwide that increased gun controls, and in 2018 that rose to almost 70 bills. Also in 2018, legislators at the national level rejected 90 percent of bills supported by the NRA.

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