Taking careful aim

The Ashland City Council appears to be taking a rational approach to limiting loaded firearms in public places.

The issue arose last month after supporters of new restrictions submitted an online petition calling on the city to ban people from openly carrying loaded firearms in public places, including in vehicles in public areas. The petition also advocated an ordinance making it a crime to fail to prevent children from accessing a firearm, loaded or unloaded, without the permission of the owner, a parent or guardian. Locking away guns or equipping them with trigger locks would satisfy the proposed law.

Gun rights advocates threatened to call for a boycott of the city if it went ahead with the open carry ban, and one group promised a lawsuit if the city tried to impose storage rules on gun owners.

The two different approaches make sense, given that several Oregon cities already ban open carry of loaded firearms. Portland's ordinance was challenged, and the Oregon Supreme Court upheld it last year.

In its unanimous ruling, the court noted that the ordinance exempted several groups of people, including anyone with a concealed handgun license as well as law enforcement officers and people on their way to a target shooting facility.

The law did not violate the constitutional right to bear arms, the court said, because it is not an absolute ban. The justices said the city had a legitimate interest in protecting public safety by limiting the number of loaded firearms in public places.

So a similar ordinance in Ashland would likely pass muster with the courts — something gun groups grudgingly acknowledge. But the proposed gun storage rules are another matter.

Ashland City Attorney Dave Lohman has warned council members that state law does not permit the city to regulate gun storage or ammunition. And Lohman has estimated that defending a lawsuit could cost the city more than $150,000.

Taking that advice to heart, several council members have expressed concerns about court costs. Councilor Mike Morris noted the city had to pay $400,000 in court costs and legal fees after a judge ruled the city improperly interfered with plans to expand the Mount Ashland ski area in 2006.

The council plans a public hearing next month. City residents should ask themselves what they want to accomplish with a gun ordinance. Given that Ashland has had no particular problem with people openly carrying firearms, an ordinance would amount to a statement of community sentiment as much as a solid safety measure. Moreover, exempting concealed handgun license holders and others would not eliminate the open display of guns on the street and might even encourage it. It would, however, give police the authority to ask anyone carrying a firearm to produce a concealed handgun license or establish that the weapon was unloaded.

If the council decides public opinion favors an ordinance, it is certainly within its rights to enact one. But councilors are correct to avoid triggering a costly legal fight, and city taxpayers should thank them for it.

Share This Story