An initiative aimed at prohibiting enforcement of laws that restrict gun possession in Grant County will not appear on the November ballot after Grant County Circuit Court Judge William D. Cramer Jr. determined it was preempted by state law.
In a June 29 decision, Cramer said the proposed ordinance would have violated a state statute prohibiting counties from regulating firearms, components and ammunition, and the initiative would have confused voters about limitations to county authority.
The Second Amendment preservation ordinance, which could have appeared on the ballot this fall as Measure 12-72, was submitted by Ron Rue of Prairie City and was challenged by Mark Webb of Mt. Vernon May 14.
According to an initiative summary provided by the Grant County District Attorney’s Office, the proposed ordinance would make unconstitutional in Grant County “any law or regulation that restricts a person from possessing firearms, ammunition and firearms accessories” and “would require the Grant County sheriff to review federal, state and local laws affecting firearms, firearms accessories and/or ammunition.”
In his petition, Webb maintained that “given the scope of its subject matter,” Rue’s initiative “goes well beyond the matters of county concern” allowed under the state’s initiative process.
Some of the initiative’s language was so broad that substantive legal changes to existing statutory and constitutional law would occur if it passed, Webb said. Voters should be provided fair notice of that possibility under the “full text requirement” for prospective initiatives, he said.
In addition, requiring the sheriff to review federal, state and local laws affecting firearms would expand the sheriff’s statutory responsibilities to include judicial review, Webb said.
It is Grant County Clerk Brenda Percy’s responsibility to review submitted initiatives. In a May 31 declaration, Percy explained how she determined that Rue’s initiative met constitutional and statutory provisions.
While she found that the petition measure satisfied those requirements, her decision “was not, however, without doubt.” She noted that the measure “lacked clarity and was subject to differing interpretations.”
Percy said she sought legal advice from Grant County Counsel Ron Yockim about portions of the initiative and was told the Oregon Supreme Court had ruled “that when faced with such doubt, and the need to make assumptions, that any doubt should be resolved in favor of the exercise of the right of initiative.”
Noting that state law can preempt county ordinances, Judge Cramer cited the full text of state law prohibiting counties from regulating firearms, components and ammunition.
“This initiative is not vague,” Cramer said. “The plain reading of Measure 12-72 violates this statute and by definition enters it into an area that by law is not of county concern.”
Cramer also noted that the initiative contained provisions that were not legislative by nature and so were not proper for an initiative. Assigning duties to a county sheriff is administrative in nature, he said.
The initiative also “violates numerous constitutional provisions and awards powers to the office of sheriff that are not authorized by statutes that define that office,” he said.
Cramer said he recognized Percy’s careful approach in consulting Yockim and explaining her reasoning in detail. But this was not a case of statutory ordinance interpretation where a law already exists, in which case it is assumed those passing the law “intended it to fit within the existing laws that are superior to it,” Cramer said.
He was also concerned about the impact on voters.
“In this instance, we are at the stage where voters are making a choice,” Cramer said. “They have a right to have a reasonable opportunity to understand what they are voting on and what its legal effect will be.”
No reasonable voter could read the initiative and understand that it only affected the ability of the county court to pass laws on this topic, Cramer said, or that it could only address the county’s ability to regulate the possession of loaded firearms in public places.
“That appears to be the remaining area left to county action — and only outside incorporated towns within the county,” Cramer said.
Instead, a voter reading the initiative “most likely would believe it would enable Grant County residents to interpret laws, establish new duties for the sheriff including constitutional interpretation of state and federal laws, control county budgets where gun use is involved, including the county jail and etc. None of which is accurate,” Cramer said.
A voter deserves a reasonable opportunity to understand what they are voting on and its legal effect, and the initiative failed in that attempt, Cramer concluded in denying the initiative’s placement on the ballot.