Voters in Coos County, Oregon on Tuesday passed a measure that empowers the sheriff to prohibit local enforcement of state and federal gun laws he deems unconstitutional.
The Oregonian reported that more than 60 percent of Coos County voters cast ballots in favor of a “Second Amendment Preservation Measure.” Supporters gathered enough signatures to put the proposal on the ballot before last month’s mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, according to the newspaper. A gunman killed nine people there before turning a gun on himself. The college is in neighboring Douglas County.
Wheeler and Wallowa counties, in the eastern part of the state, already have similar ordinances in place, according to The Oregonian.
The text of the Coos County ordinance declares “any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms” to be void and tasks the sheriff with determining which local, state and federal regulations violate the Constitution. It also stipulates that no county funds or resources may be dedicated to enforcing the state’s newly expanded background checks, which cover private gun sales.
The coordinator for the Southern Oregon chapter of the Oath Keepers urged Coos County commissioners to pass the ordinance at a May board meeting, according to The World newspaper. The Oath Keepers are a loosely organized group of current and former law enforcement and military members who vow to disobey what they view as unconstitutional government edicts.
“The Constitution is our backbone and what our country is founded on — it’s our children’s and our grandchildren’s rights. What are you going to do to protect our rights?” coordinator Tom McKirgan told the board, as quoted by The World. “You have the right to pass this ordinance. I’ll be damned if I let my father, uncles, cousins and family members to have fought in vain. Pass this ordinance.”
Coos County Sheriff Craig Zanni initially supported putting the measure to the ballot and expressed his belief that the state law expanding background checks was, as The World newspaper put it, “essentially a preemptive effort to begin gun registration.”
But Zanni seemed to cool to the ordinance in an interview with The Oregonian last month. He told the newspaper that he didn’t expect to do his job any differently if the measure passed. He also said he was concerned about the “wording” of the proposal, which would give him the authority to determine whether state and federal gun laws were unconstitutional.
“I’m not sure the courts would agree with that concept,” he said, as quoted by The Oregonian. “I would just bet there would be some legal challenges to it.”
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at email@example.com.