Max Denning

Editor's Note: This story has been corrected to accurately name the ballot measure number.

Supporters of the Union County Ballot Measure 31-96, also known as the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance, are confident the measure will pass. The measure seeks to expand the definition of firearms and prohibit the enforcement of laws that regulate their manufacture, sale and possession.

The Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance is on the ballot in Union County and nine other counties in Oregon. Preservation ordinances have already been made law in Wheeler, Wallowa, Curry and Coos counties. Wallowa County was the first to pass the ordinance in 2013. The ordinance was originally written by Leo Castillo, a Union County resident, and since then has been condensed.

Now helping an effort to pass preservation ordinances statewide is Rob Taylor, a Coos County resident and activist who runs the website www.cooscountywatchdog.com. Taylor was the chief petitioner for a ballot initiative in 2015 in Coos County, which passed with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Taylor said his Second Amendment preservation efforts began when the Oregon Legislature introduced Senate Bill 941 in 2015, known as the “Oregon Firearms Safety Act,” which adds the requirement of a background check for firearm transfers between private parties to existing law. County ordinances would supercede state laws and allow counties not to enforce the firearms safety act. Taylor said he and other activists were worried the expanded law would be the beginning of a statewide database of firearms tracking how many guns an individual owns.

“We were opposed to that because we don’t want gun registration,” Taylor said. “We don’t think the government needs to know how many guns people own. It’s really none of their business.”

Taylor now runs a Political Action Committee named the Committee to Preserve the Second Amendment, which donates money to local efforts to pass Second Amendment Preservation Ordinances.

In May 2018, a group of Portland faith leaders began collecting signatures for Initiative Petition 43 that would ban sales of some types of weapons and high-capacity magazines in Oregon. This galvanized a number of Second Amendment activists across the state.

Phil Gillette, manager of the sporting goods department at Ace Hardware in La Grande, said the law would have severely limited the type of guns he would have been able to sell.

“It would have effected a wide variety of businesses,” Gillette said. “We are known in Northeast Oregon to be the hub of the outdoor center. Something like that passes, guess what? You’re going to see businesses close. Pretty simple.”

Ken Wisdom, chief petitioner for Union County’s Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance, said a group of local activists originally brought the ordinance to the Union County Commissioners in April, who decided against endorsing it after concluding commissioners shouldn’t take a political stance.

In June, Wisdom began collecting signatures to get the preservation ordinance on the November ballot. He successfully turned in more than 1,400 signatures, exceeding the necessary 632 signatures. Wisdom said when gun-control advocates began collecting signatures for IP 43, it pushed him toward action.

“We decided we had to get on the ball and do something about this because (IP 43 supporters) were really pushing,” Wisdom said. “We needed to step up and do something (because IP 43 would) really
affect businesses right here in Union County.”

See more in Friday's edition of The Observer.

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