Local governments in Oregon can’t declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries and ban police from enforcing certain gun laws, a state appeals court decided Wednesday, in the first court case filed over a concept that hundreds of U.S. counties have adopted in recent years.
The measure in question, which was approved in Columbia County, forbids local officials from enforcing most federal and state gun laws and would impose thousands of dollars in fines on those who try.
The state Court of Appeals ruled that it violates a law giving the state the power to regulate firearms. The ordinance would, it found, “effectively, create a ‘patchwork quilt’ of firearms laws in Oregon, where firearms regulations that applied in some counties would not apply in Columbia County,” something lawmakers specifically wanted to avoid.
Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions have been adopted by some 1,200 local governments around the U.S., including in Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Illinois and Florida, experts say. Many are symbolic, but some carry legal force like the one in Columbia County, a conservative, rural logging area in deep-blue Oregon.
The sanctuary movement took off around 2018 as states considered stricter gun laws in the wake of mass shootings, but it had not previously faced a major legal challenge.
The Oregon case was filed in 2021 under a provision in state law that allows a judge to examine a measure before it goes into effect. A trial court judge originally declined to rule, a decision that was appealed to the higher court.
The ordinance’s supporters included the Oregon Firearms Federation, which said “extremists” were trying to curtail gun rights.
Opponents, including the legal arm of the group Everytown for Gun Safety, had argued that the ordinance also violates the U.S. Constitution.
State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who has also sued two other Second Amendment sanctuary counties, applauded the ruling.
“Today’s opinion by the Court of Appeals makes it clear that common sense requirements like safe storage and background checks apply throughout Oregon,” Rosenblum said. “Hopefully, other counties with similar measures on the books will see the writing on the wall.”