Julia Shumway
The Bulletin

The Deschutes County Commission won’t pass an ordinance prohibiting county resources from being used to enforce state gun laws, but the Redmond resident who pitched the law plans to take it to the ballot box.

During a Friday morning work session, all three county commissioners agreed they wouldn’t take up a draft ordinance Redmond resident Jerrad Robison gave them in January. Commissioner Tony DeBone, who brought up the ordinance, said he wanted to make it clear that the county wouldn’t pursue the proposed law.

“It was handed to us unsolicited and put on the table in front of us,” DeBone said. “This is hanging out here and it’s gotten a life of its own.”

Since January, commissioners have heard from dozens of residents opposed to the proposed ordinance. More than 15 people spoke against it during the first meeting after Robison proposed the ordinance, and DeBone said he’s received daily phone calls from Deschutes County residents telling him the county shouldn’t pass it.

One of those residents is Ruth Herbert, a retired nurse practitioner from Redmond. Herbert said Friday she applauded the County Commission for rejecting the proposed ordinance.

“I felt that it would open up a can of worms for the county,” Herbert said. “There would be potential long and expensive litigation and possible huge liability if somebody died because we weren’t enforcing gun laws.”

The Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance proposed by Robison would define local, state and federal gun control regulations as “extraterritorial acts” that would be considered null and void in Deschutes County.

Those nullified laws would include taxes on ammunition, mandatory background checks, restrictions on open or concealed carry firearms permits, and a ban on accessories, such as bump stocks, like the one used in the 2017 mass shooting at a country concert in Las Vegas, that give semi-automatic weapons the same features as fully automatic ones.

Robison contends gun laws violate the U.S. Constitution. Supreme Court decisions, including 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller and 2010’s McDonald v. City of Chicago, interpreted the Second Amendment as a right for private citizens to keep and bear arms but also held that the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to unrestricted ownership or use of weapons.

The Heller decision confirmed that states have the right to pass gun regulations, said Dave Doyle, the county’s legal counsel. He said the Deschutes County Commission could choose to follow Crook County’s lead in advocating against state gun legislation, but it couldn’t legally pass Robison’s ordinance.

“It’s not in your wheelhouse legally to take up what Mr. Robison suggested,” Doyle told the commissioners Friday.

Commissioners asked county staff to compile a list of proposed gun bills in the 2019 legislative session, and they received that list Friday. They haven’t yet taken a stance as a board on any of the bills.

Commission Chairman Phil Henderson said he wants the county to prepare a statement to share at a meeting that explains why it wasn’t taking up the ordinance.

“It seems like the state of law in America is that state law would pre-empt the county from taking a stand like this,” he said. “We would be challenging the pre-emption notion. That seems to me an aggressive stance to adopt.”

The last time this issue came before the Deschutes County Commission, in 2015, DeBone was serving as chairman. He and then-Commissioners Tammy Baney and Alan Unger signed a resolution affirming their support of the entire Constitution.

Because of that resolution, DeBone — a Republican who has belonged to the National Rifle Association since 2010 — said he received about 900 emails criticizing him for not supporting the Second Amendment.

Robison said he and other gun rights supporters will contact DeBone and the other commissioners to share their disappointment again.

“It’s their duty as elected officials to stand up and tell the state of Oregon they’re doing something unconstitutional,” Robison said.

He’s shifting his attention back to gathering signatures for the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance, which differs from the ordinance he proposed to the county commissioners because it would let Deschutes County Sheriff L. Shane Nelson decide whether gun laws are constitutional.

Robison originally aimed to have that measure on the November 2018 ballot, but he failed to gather the 4,144 signatures he needed to make it. He said he has close to 3,000 signatures and is shooting for elections in 2020.

Once he has those signatures, he said he plans to start a new petition to get the sanctuary ordinance on the ballot.

Amber Hossick, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action who spoke to the County Commission, said Friday, she’ll be paying close attention to efforts to pass either ordinance via the ballot box.

“I will actively work against that, and I will actively work to educate people on what common-sense gun laws mean,” she said.

Moms Demand Action, an organization founded the day after a shooter killed 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, wants to reach a middle ground between Second Amendment rights and safety, Hossick said.

Caroline Skidmore, another Moms Demand Action member who’s attended County Commission meetings, said she grew up in a home with guns and many members are gun owners. They work hard to pass common-sense gun laws and want to see counties abide by those laws, she said.

“It’s pretty simple to have our Second Amendment but also make sure guns stay out of the hands of dangerous people,” Skidmore said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com