SALEM — Voters in a rural Oregon county will vote next month on a ballot measure that seeks to prohibit enforcement of new gun laws.
The decision to hold the election in Coos County follows the state Legislature’s vote earlier this year to require background checks for private, person-to-person gun sales.
The move angered gun-rights advocates and prompted a backlash in much of rural Oregon.
“What we’re trying to do is stop the erosion of our Second Amendment liberties,” said Rob Taylor, chief petitioner behind the ballot measure. “The liberty to protect against tyranny, the liberty to protect ourselves against any harm and the liberty to hunt and own a gun.”
The initiative seeks to prohibit the use of county funds to enforce the state background-check mandate or new gun restrictions in the future. It also directs the sheriff to determine whether gun laws violate the state or U.S. constitutions.
“I don’t think it’s an effective way — and in some respects it could be a dangerous way — for local voters to express their opposition to state or federal law,” said Norman Williams, associate dean and director of the Center for Constitutional Government at Willamette University’s law school.
The initiative is not necessary, he said, because people who believe a law impedes their constitutional rights can file a lawsuit, and courts are adept at sorting it out.
It’s dangerous because “it can lead to a breakdown of law and order if every local official can pick and choose which federal and state laws they’re going to enforce and which they aren’t going to enforce because of their own views about the constitutionality of the measure,” Williams said.
The aversion to stiffer gun laws among some in rural Oregon got national attention earlier this month when hundreds of armed demonstrators turned out to protest President Barack Obama’s visit to Roseburg following a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.
The initiative in Coos County, which borders Douglas County, where Roseburg is located, predates the Oct. 1 shooting.
Taylor said he’s not spending any money to promote the ballot measure, which has no organized opposition.
It’s impossible to know whether the initiative is enforceable until it’s challenged in court, Taylor said. Either way, he said, there’s value in getting the electorate on board.
“You find out what the people believe and where their values lie,” Taylor said. “Two, it sends a huge message to our politicians that sometimes the people will buck the system because the system has become too overlapping into our lives.”
Taylor isn’t a one-issue activist, he said. A committed libertarian, he organizes voters to challenge any action that they feel represents government overreach. His other recent project: ensuring the county and local cities allow the nascent recreational marijuana industry to thrive.
“I’m not just a gun nut,” Taylor said. “I’m a freedom nut.”