Oregon Sheriffs Refuse To Enforce Gun Laws, Using Extremist Strategy

Oregon Sheriffs: A growing list of Oregon sheriffs are informing their people they wonโ€™t implement voter-approved gun restrictions despite not yet understanding how certain portions of the law would function and not having a clear role in the enforcement of others.

Oregon Sheriffs Refuse To Enforce Gun Laws

Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan wrote on Facebook on November 9 that Measure 114, which was adopted by 50.7% of voters the day before, is bad for gun owners, crime victims, and public safety. The bill would outlaw magazines holding more than 10 rounds and require a permit to purchase a firearm.

As of Friday, the post by Duncan, which he titled “I want to deliver a clear message to Linn County residents,” had been shared 12,000 times and had 9,300 comments.

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Soon after, Sheriffs Jason Pollock of neighboring Jefferson County, Joel Fish of Wallowa County, and Cody Bowen of neighboring Union County all declared they would not enforce the new legislation, joining Sheriff Duncan.

For Pollock, “the provisions in Measure 114 are contrary to previously decided judicial decisions.” Bowen said the measure will also be a strain on resources and dubbed it โ€œanother attempt at defunding the police at its finest.โ€

“To those who join me in picking and choosing which laws I want to enforce or not enforce! In other words, listen up! According to Bowen’s Facebook post, he exclaimed. I will fight to the grave to protect our constitutional rights. Even if Salem passes some weird law!”

The Sheriff’s Department has been complaining about a lack of personnel.
Measure 114 was passed by voters, not state officials in Salem. Sheriffs are not lawyers and do not interpret the constitution โ€“ that is the responsibility of judges.

Bowen and Pollock, as well as the Oregon State Sheriffsโ€™ Association, did not reply to interview requests.

Duncan stated that her organization continuously faces the challenge of allocating limited funds. She stated that because a federal court might declare magazine prohibitions unlawful as early as this spring, she is opting not to prioritize enforcement.

โ€œI have a hard time saying that weโ€™re going to deploy resources to go arrest folks for something that has a strong possibility of being deemed unlawful very shortly,โ€ Duncan said in an interview with OPB. “Until that judgment is either confirmed or refused, this is where I’m deciding to withhold resources.”

Duncan said if the Supreme Court finds the statute is constitutional, she may have to reassess her position.

However, they stopped short of announcing they would not implement the provisions because they thought the law was badly worded and hoped it would be halted by the courts.

On April 2, 2019, in Salem, Oregon, a member of the Three Percent of Oregon militia group listened to evidence regarding Senate Bill 978.

Marion County Sheriff Joe Kast said he thought the new rule would impose a substantial burden on limited resources and he would not focus investigations on magazine capacity issues.

The view of some Oregon sheriffs appears to put them in conflict with the Oregon State Sheriffsโ€™ Association, which said in a statement the lawโ€™s constitutionality will be decided by the courts.

โ€œAny legal challenge could potentially result in the policy being stayed (blocked or a delayed implementation) by a court, but that is not a certainty,โ€ the group stated. โ€œWhile this is a major undertaking for Oregon law enforcement which is already under-resourced, OSSA will work carefully to administer this complex measure.โ€

Oregon Sheriffs Refuse To Enforce Gun Laws
Oregon Sheriffs Refuse To Enforce Gun Laws

Fringe influence

In order to legally acquire a firearm, one must complete a training course and obtain a permit. The state has not yet hammered out how the permit system would be managed, but it is possible it could be comparable to the present concealed carry permitting procedure, which is overseen by sheriffโ€™s offices. Such an arrangement would likely add to their burden. Other components of the statute would have less impact on sheriffs.

When the law goes into effect on Dec. 8, licensed gun dealers will be forbidden from selling the magazines or be subject to a class A misdemeanor and risk losing their federal firearms license. It is possible to sell or transfer inventory from a store to someone located in another state after 180 days have passed. Individuals will also be forbidden from selling or giving away banned magazines.

Any state or local law enforcement agency can investigate possible violations of state gun laws, but if deputies went door to door looking for high-capacity magazines, as some gun rights activists have suggested, it would be a violation of people’s civil rights.

It is more frequent for police to enforce prohibitions when they discover contraband during the course of an unrelated investigation. Sheriff’s deputies may find an illegal magazine during a traffic stop, for instance.

Some legal experts find it hard to believe Duncan’s assertion that her subordinates won’t execute the law in such a case.

โ€œIf you pull over a car and the person has a record, youโ€™re telling me that her office is not going to arrest that person? In particular, if that individual is a person of color, impoverished, or has a relatively long record,” said Jessica Pishko, a New America fellow who is preparing a book about sheriffs. “You can’t be serious about it,” I thought to myself.

Duncan stated that the district attorney would decide whether or not to prosecute charges in the event that her deputies made an arrest involving a high-capacity magazine.

โ€œBut if I have someone who is not a felon or Iโ€™m not arresting for anything else, Iโ€™m not going to be arresting them for possession of a magazine or perform an investigation into the possession of the magazine, whether itโ€™s lawful or not,โ€ she added.

Duncan has reported that her office has been flooded with calls and emails from worried citizens, a reminder that sheriffs, like other elected leaders, are accountable to people. Measure 114 passed by a small margin, mostly carried by broad support in the stateโ€™s more liberal, populous counties. Voters in 29 of Oregonโ€™s 36 counties voted against it. In more rural sections of the state, such as Linn and Union counties, the vote was more than 2-to-1 against.

Pishko said sheriffs who make sweeping remarks about refusing to enforce gun laws when they havenโ€™t been ordered to do so are also likely being inspired by the fringe constitutional sheriff movement launched in 2011 by former Oath Keepers militia board member Richard Mack.

Mackโ€™s organization adheres to the mistaken assumption that the sheriff is the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country.

โ€œThe president of the United States cannot tell your sheriff what to do,โ€ he allegedly said in an interview with the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia organization whose leading members have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their involvement in the Jan. 6 rebellion.

That defies the Constitutionโ€™s supremacy clause, which says federal law outweighs state law. Similarly, thanks to a National Rifle Association lobbying drive to prevent more liberal towns from implementing tough gun rules, Oregon has whatโ€™s known as a firearm preemption statute, meaning state gun laws overrule any local and county legislation.

Further complicating constitutional sheriff philosophy, the county-state relationship is significantly less strict than the state-federal one.

โ€œCounties are totally a fiction of states,โ€ Portland State University political science professor Chris Shortell noted to OPB in a 2019 interview for a report concerning Oregon sheriffs and extremist ideology. โ€œStates create them, states could eliminate them, states can redraw their limits and as such, they are viewed as merely a part of the state.โ€

Sheriffs in Oregon have shown an affinity for radical ideology before. In a letter to the Obama administration in 2013, eight sheriffs from the state of Oregon stated their refusal to uphold any new federal gun legislation. That initiative was led by one of Duncanโ€™s predecessors, then-Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller.

Sheriffs in Oregon who have refused to implement Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID regulations have also proposed similar proposals. The sheriffs were not asked to enforce the COVID limits in 2020, similar to the recent refusals to police the high-capacity magazine ban.

The courts weigh in

In 2018, eight counties passed so-called Second Amendment Preservation Ordinances, granting county sheriffs authority to judge if state and federal gun regulations are valid and banning county resources from being used to enforce them. Columbia County approved an ordinance seeking to negate state and federal gun regulations.

The courts have consistently ruled against the ordinances. Harney County rescinded its ordinance after the Oregon Department of Justice petitioned a court to nullify the law.

That petition was filed by Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, who cited a law mandating the arrest and imprisonment of “all those who disrupt the peace, or attempt to break it, and all persons guilty of public offenses.”

โ€œThus, a sheriff and deputies have a statutory duty to enforce state criminal laws,โ€ Rosenblum wrote.

While Yamhill County vigorously defended its ordinance, County Circuit Court Judge Ladd Wiles sided with the state in July and declared it null and void. The county appealed the verdict, and if the appellate court finds with the state, it will apply to every county, nullifying all comparable ordinances.

Legal challenges to Oregon’s Measure 114 may be successful on one front. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that Americans have a right to carry a firearm outside their home, the court also directed the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reexamine a case maintaining Californiaโ€™s high-capacity magazine prohibition.

The California ban, as well as a similar statute in Washington state, remains in place while the court deliberates. Given the Supreme Courtโ€™s attitude, anticipation is running high that the legislation will be thrown out.

A federal court might get a chance to weigh in sooner. On Friday, the Oregon Firearms Federation, Sheriff Brad Lohrey of Sherman County, and the owner of a gun shop in Marion County sued Governor Kate Brown and Rosenblum in federal court.

The lawsuit argues Measure 114 infringes on Oregoniansโ€™ Second Amendment rights and wants a judge to reject the legislation or, at least, issue an injunction prohibiting the measures from being enacted. In the alternative, the complaint sought to have the magazine ban ruled on separately.

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As a result of the muddle, gun purchases in the state have skyrocketed, and the waiting time for background checks has increased. As of Wednesday, the Oregon State Police reported a fourfold increase in the daily average number of background checks for firearms, prompting some gun stores in Multnomah County to temporarily suspend some services in preparation for traffic jams in December.

In Oregon, a buyer who acquires a firearm from a dealer located outside of the state must have the firearm transported to a licensed dealer, who will then verify the buyer’s identity and complete the transfer.

Due to the increasing backlog, several dealers have stopped accepting out-of-state transfers for fear that the required checks won’t be finished by the new law’s deadline of December 8.

Despite the uncertainties, several Oregon sheriffs have taken a more reserved tone.

Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers pushed back Wednesday against the suggestion he or his colleagues could interpret the Constitution. Landers stated in a statement that although he doesnโ€™t agree with the new law, his office will enforce it.

โ€œI have sworn an oath to uphold the laws of this state, regardless of my opinion,โ€ Landers said, adding that that doesnโ€™t imply deputies will be going door-to-door seeking magazines. โ€œHowever, if we learn you have violated the law we may take action, just like we are responsible for doing for any other crime.โ€

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