Voters in one Oregon county approved a measure that would basically require the sheriff to act like an Oath Keeper militia member.
Coos County voters approved a "Second Amendment Preservation Measure" Tuesday that would grant the sheriff authority to decide which state and federal gun laws are unconstitutional -- and then keep authorities from enforcing those regulations, reported The Oregonian.
The measure was pushed earlier this year by members of the Oath Keepers, which is primarily made up of current and former law enforcement and military personnel who have vowed to disobey laws they believe are unconstitutional, and other gun lovers.
The gun activists asked county commissioners in February to adopt the ordinance -- which is nearly identical to measures approved by commissioners across the state in Wallowa and Wheeler counties -- but elected officials declined to do so, citing concerns over its constitutionality.
“When people come in here and tell me to remember my Constitution and remember my oath, I want you to know I do, and I hope you do, too,” said County Commissioner Earl Fisher at the time. “I hope you read the whole thing, not [just] the part that you like.
"This is not a free-will document," Fisher continued. "It’s determined by laws -- that’s what makes our civilization work.”
But Rob Taylor, a retired optician who pushed the measure alongside Oath Keeper member Chris Brumbles, was undeterred and gathered enough signatures to place the issue before voters -- who overwhelmingly approved the measure.
"I was pretty confident and sure of getting 60 percent or more, and that's pretty much what we got," Taylor said. "That we won by 20 percent or more says people support the Second Amendment and oppose the background checks (approved by Oregon lawmakers)."
However, gun-control activists warned the measure would likely cost Coos County taxpayers and end up being struck down by a court as unconstitutional.
“The Coos County referendum to nullify state firearms law and require the sheriff to analyze whether federal and state firearms laws are constitutional displays a gross misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution," said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "The measure misuses constitutional provisions to support the proposition that a jurisdiction may disobey federal and state laws when residents disagree with those laws on political grounds."
The measure elevates the role of the county sheriff -- which many far-right groups believe to be the highest legal authority in the U.S.
The idea was promoted decades ago by the anti-government “Posse Comitatus” movement, which gave birth to sovereign citizens and believes that all government is illegitimate above the county level.
Right-wing groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association have repackaged some of those ideas, while downplaying the Posse Comitatus movement’s overtly racist and anti-Semitic elements.
Voters have now approved a measure that requires sheriffs to fall in line with those fringe legal theories or face a $2,000 fine.
Taylor, the measure's champion, admitted the ordinance was largely symbolic, and Coos County Sheriff Craig Zanni said he didn't expect it would change his duties because he didn't have the resources to enforce state law on background checks, anyway.
But gun-control activists said the measure could allow criminals to evade Oregon state law and obtain firearms they could later use in violent crime.
"What they are doing is advertising to criminals, 'Come to Coos County and buy a gun illegally,'" said Penny Okamoto, executive director of Ceasefire Oregon.