An Oregon judge accused sheriffs who, citing the Constitution, refuse to enforce federal and state gun control laws of embracing “racist and white nationalist ideologies.”
The Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled that local governments in the state cannot declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries and prohibit police from enforcing statewide gun laws. It was the first court defeat for the concept, which has been adopted by as many as 1,200 conservative local governments in response to Democrat-run cities and local jurisdictions that have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” and refuse to enforce federal immigration laws.
Some of these ordinances are symbolic, but the court reviewed a measure enacted in Columbia County that would have imposed thousands of dollars in fines on officials who attempt to enforce federal and state gun laws. It said the ordinance would “create a ‘patchwork quilt’ of firearms laws in Oregon, where firearms regulations that applied in some counties would not apply in Columbia County,” which the court found would violate state law.
The county ordinance was backed by gun rights groups, including the Oregon Firearms Federation and Gun Owners of America (GOA).
While disappointed with the ruling overall, these groups expressed shock at a “scathing, incendiary, and frightening” concurring opinion by Chief Judge Jim Egan, who accused GOA of advancing conspiracy theories about the United Nations and invoking “antisemitic and racist tropes.”
“During the course of argument, Intervenor’s counsel referred to alleged United Nations (UN) and ‘international firearms laws.’ Those references allude to the conspiracy theory that the UN has or will impose mandates upon the federal government that will require state and local governments to do the bidding of the UN, specifically to disarm the American public in violation of the Second Amendment,” Egan wrote.
“In other words, Intervenors came before this court and referenced UN mandates, which, as explained below, is a well-documented trope meant to invoke white supremacist, antisemitic fear of a takeover of our country by outsiders and minorities who are manipulated by an elite class of supervillains,” he continued.
Gun Owners of America forcefully denied this characterization of their argument.
“While we are very disappointed in this ruling against the clear vote of the people, we are more alarmed by the raucous secondary opinion by Judge Egan,” said Erich Pratt, senior vice president for GOA. “These vitriolic accusations and opinionated commentary have no basis in fact or the law, and the radical viewpoints held by this judge are dangerous to constitutional doctrine and principle.”
Egan asserted that the sanctuary jurisdiction policies advocated by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) – which Columbia County’s ordinance was based on – “have their origins in the ideology of white supremacist nationalism which runs contrary to the tenets of our constitutional republic.”
In his 10-page concurrence, Egan argues that courts have the power to decide which laws are constitutional, not sheriffs; that the Columbia County ordinance is “repugnant to the separation of powers under the United States Constitution and the Oregon Constitution”; and that the constitutional sheriff’s movement is animated by deeply flawed and ahistorical legal theories based in antisemitic writings and advocated for by White supremacists.
“These ideas are, of course, nothing new, unique, or intelligent,” Egan wrote. “They are, instead, just a rehashing of the ancient trope of a secret Jewish government; they are the retelling of a lie that led to the murder of over six million Jews within living memory.”
READ JUDGE EGAN’S CONCURRING OPINION. APP USERS: CLICK HERE
The Oregon Firearms Federation blasted Egan’s opinion in a news release, calling his accusations a “lie” and “defamatory.”
“We have come to expect these kinds of mindless and false attacks from the left and their pawns in the media,” the group said. “But coming from the bench, this kind of blatantly false and hate filled rhetoric, is not only unsettling, it is dangerous. It inspires violence and retribution. It is frankly, unhinged.”
The Court of Appeals ruling marks the first major legal defeat for the Second Amendment sanctuary movement.
Opponents of the Columbia County ordinance included Everytown for Gun Safety, which had argued that the ordinance violated the U.S. Constitution. Eric Tirschwell, executive director of Everytown, called the court’s decision “a win for public safety and the rule of law.”
“Opponents of gun safety laws have every right to advocate for change at the ballot box, statehouse, or Congress, but claiming to nullify them at the local level is both unconstitutional and dangerous,” Tirschwell said.
State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who has also sued two other Second Amendment sanctuary counties, also 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.”\
The Oregon Firearms Federation and Gun Owners of America are also challenging Oregon Ballot Measure 114, a state initiative approved by voters that requires a background check, hands-on firearm training, fingerprint collection and a permit to purchase a gun. It also requires police to maintain an electronic, searchable database of all firearm permits.
The groups sued in federal and state court and the ballot measure has been temporarily blocked pending a hearing on its constitutionality.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.