Oregon gun group sues over gun-control law as sheriffs vow not to enforce it

Oregon’s new voter-approved gun law is facing its first legal challenge as a number of county sheriffs have pledged not to enforce it. 

Voters earlier this month narrowly approved Measure 114, which will limit sales of some ammunition magazines and require safety training before purchasing a gun when it takes effect Dec. 8. A federal lawsuit filed Friday aims to block the law, and it’s only the first of what is likely to be several lawsuits. 

Meanwhile, several Republican sheriffs have declared that they won’t enforce the new law, and others have said enforcing it will be a “low priority.”

Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey joined the Oregon Firearms Federation and Keizer gun store owner Adam Johnson in filing a federal lawsuit against Gov. Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum on Friday. It claims that Measure 114 infringes on the constitutional right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment. The suit primarily challenges Measure 114’s ban on ammunition magazines that contain more than 10 rounds. 

It claims that those large-capacity magazines are the most popular among gun-owners and that they’re needed for self-defense. 

“Each available round is an additional opportunity to end the threat,” the lawsuit said. “That is precisely why millions of Americans choose magazines over 10 rounds for self-defense, including inside and outside the home.”

The new law allows people who already have large-capacity magazines to continue using them at their homes or shooting ranges, but no new magazines can be manufactured or sold in Oregon after the ban takes effect. There is an exception for military and law enforcement.

A 2019 research study that analyzed nearly three decades of data found that states that allow the sales of large-capacity magazines have twice as many deaths in mass shootings than states with bans.

California also has a ban on large capacity magazine sales. A legal challenge to it is pending, after the U.S. Supreme Court this summer told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to revisit a ruling upholding a California state law that banned magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. Oregon is also in the 9th Circuit, so a new ruling in the California case would serve as precedent for Oregon’s law.

The Oregon Firearms Federation, the main plaintiff in the lawsuit, describes itself as Oregon’s “only no-compromise gun rights organization.” Legislative Republicans have called it a “fringe” group and blamed the group’s members for threats against a handful of Republican senators who allowed a 2021 vote banning guns at the capitol to occur. 

The organization is selling shirts, baseball caps and stickers adorned with a rifle and the phrase “Fight 114,” with proceeds going to legal fees. By Monday afternoon, it said it had raised more than $1,700 of a $10,000 goal.

Lohrey is one of several Oregon sheriffs who have indicated they won’t enforce the new gun law. The day after Election Day, Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan posted to Facebook that the law was “terrible” and that her office wouldn’t enforce it. 

Union County Sheriff Cody Bowen followed suit with an exclamation-laden post of his own. 

“To the people who chime in with me picking and choosing which laws I want to enforce or not enforce! Hear this! When it comes to our constitutional rights I’ll fight to the death to defend them. No matter what crazy law comes out of Salem!” he wrote. 

Sheriffs in Jefferson and Wallowa counties shared similar statements. And in other counties, sheriffs said they would make enforcing the law a low priority. Deschutes County Sheriff L. Shane Nelson said on Facebook that he doubted whether Measure 114 was constitutional and that the office would use “education and discretion” as it enforces laws. 

“Our office is like any other law enforcement agency in that we are having a difficult time finding deputy sheriffs to fill our ranks,” Nelson said. “Given our limited law enforcement resources, our response to violations of Measure 114 will not be a priority for our office.”

Rosenblum has pledged to defend Measure 114, and legislators and the Oregon State Police plan to work out details of the new permitting system next year.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

STORY TIP OR IDEA? Send an email to Salem Reporter’s news team: [email protected].

Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.