JOSEPH — Wallowa County Sheriff Joel Fish is joining a growing number of sheriffs across Oregon who say they won’t enforce at least parts of the controversial gun-control Measure 114, which state voters narrowly approved in last week’s election.
“I cannot enforce laws that I believe to be unconstitutional, and we already have court decisions stating that this portion of the measure is unconstitutional,” Fish said in a statement emailed to the Chieftain.
In particular, Fish pointed to recent court rulings from the 9th Circuit Court in California that a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, which is included in Measure 114, violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (Oregon is part of the 9th Circuit Court.)
In addition, Measure 114 requires people to complete firearms training before they can obtain permits to purchase guns.
The measure passed by only about 30,000 votes statewide, according to tallies posted on the Oregon secretary of state’s website as of Monday afternoon.
In Wallowa County, the measure failed by nearly a 3-to-1 margin, with 3,297 “no” votes against 1,208 “yes” votes.
Advocates of the measure call it a common-sense way to ensure responsible gun ownership and make it more difficult for those already banned from owning guns to get them. They say that research shows a decline in gun deaths after similar measures were put into effect in other states.
But in his statement, Fish said he believes Measure 114 will do little, if anything, to stop crime.
“Those with criminal intent or criminal minds do not care if they break the law,” he said. “This law only affects law-abiding citizens.”
“It will only cost law-abiding citizens more of their hard-earned money in a recession, and it will hurt gun-store owners in sales. It will cost the sheriff’s office and taxpayers more than can be charged for the permit fee,” he said.
Curt White, owner of Man Shack Gun Shop in Joseph, feels the measure is redundant.
White said that under current law, any person legally purchasing a firearm has to pass a background check.
“The only people who aren’t getting background checks are the people buying guns illegally because they’d be criminals so this law is not going to pertain to anyone, except legal gun owners,” he said.
Fish joins Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan, who said last week that her office would not enforce the Measure 114.
Union County Sheriff Cody Bowen quickly followed suit. He took to Facebook to inform Union County residents that his office would not be enforcing the ballot measure if it passed.
“It’s a complete violation of the Constitution,” Bowen said. “It’s impossible to enforce and goes against the Second Amendment.”
Union County voters overwhelmingly opposed the measure — with 77.2% voting in opposition.
Bowen said he will do everything in his power to facilitate training courses so Union County residents can obtain the necessary permits to purchase guns. He will not enforce the magazine capacity ban.
“This measure will only harm law-abiding gun owners and result in wasted time with additional redundant background checks,” Bowen wrote on Facebook. “With no funding from the state to provide additional payroll costs, this will ultimately sacrifice patrol and deputy presence in our community.”
Bowen does not believe the ballot measure benefits anyone nor does he believe it will save lives. The measure does nothing get hands out of the hands of criminals, he said, and doesn’t provide mental health resources — a point Fish also made in his comments to the Chieftain.
Klamath County Sheriff Chris Kaber also said he believes the measure presents an “unconstitutional restriction” on the right to possess guns, the Oregonian newspaper reported. He urged those with large-capacity magazines to take photos and otherwise document that they had them before Measure 114 takes effect.
Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey is following suit. “Per (the sheriff’s) direction our office would not enforce Measure 114,” Undersheriff James Burgett told Willamette Week in an email last week.
Law enforcement has a large amount of discretion when it comes to what they enforce and what they prioritize, according to Brett Burkhardt, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University.
“If they choose not to enforce the ban on high-capacity magazines, I think they’re on reasonably solid ground there,” said Burkhardt, whose research focuses on policing, firearms, surveillance and imprisonment.
Earlier this year the Supreme Court ruled that a New York law requiring a license to carry concealed weapons in public was unconstitutional. Burkhardt and Bowen both anticipate there will be legal challenges to the ballot Measure 114 on Second Amendment grounds.
“I don’t know what the outcome of those legal challenges will be, though,” Burkhardt said. “The fact is there are other states that have similar laws. There are other states that ban high-capacity magazines. There are other states that have enacted permit-purchase requirements for firearms. And those laws still stand. That’s not to say they won’t ever be deemed unconstitutional, they certainly could be challenged, but as of right now, they are in effect and have not been struck down in the courts.”