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Sheriff agrees to disagree on county gun ordinance

Residents try to understand impact of ordinance at Corbett town hall meeting


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - (Back left) Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton, Commissioner Diane McKeel, Law Enforcement Chief Deputy Jason Gates and Business Services Chief Deputy Drew Brosh hear out residents' concerns in a Corbett Town Hall Meeting about the impact of the county's gun ordinance. In attempts to eliminate confusion surrounding Multnomah County’s recently passed gun ordinance and how it will affect unincorporated Corbett, Sheriff Dan Staton told a disgruntled crowd at Corbett’s town hall meeting he will not enforce the ordinance that takes effect at the end of May.

“To be quite frank, I don’t enforce the city of Portland’s ordinance. I am not interested. I am interested in what goes on out here,” Staton said. Rather, the sheriff’s office intends to continue using Oregon firearm statutes already in place as a guide for arrests, he said. “Nothing is going to change for us.”

The five-member board of county commissioners approved the ordinance on April 25 to address firearm safety in Multnomah County following gun violence at Clackamas Town Center and Sandy Hook Elementary.

The ordinance initially sparked confusion in its assertion that it applies to all of Multnomah County, including the cities of Gresham, Troutdale, Wood Village and Fairview, when in fact, it applies only to unincorporated portions of the county, according to Portland attorney Bruce McCain. That means the ordinance would really apply mainly to Corbett, Sauvie Island and the area east of Gresham.

Three men in black suits — the sheriff, Business Services Chief Deputy Drew Brosh and Law Enforcement Chief Deputy Jason Gates — arrived at the Grange Hall that evening with the hope of dispelling rumors and to inform Corbett residents about how the ordinance will impact them.

At the meeting, Staton told locals that deputies would continue to enforce criminal behavior involving firearms, not by enforcing the county’s ordinance, but as they always have — by following Oregon’s gun-control laws already in place.

He said the sheriff’s office supersedes the ordinance and arrests will fall on the discretion of his officers.

Whipping through a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation, Deputy Brosh showed how sections of the new ordinance, for the most part, mirrored current state statutes regarding firearms.

“For each segment of the county ordinance, there is an Oregon revised statute that governs,” Staton said. “And that is what we are going to use.”

However, there were two parts of the ordinance Staton said the sheriff’s office would enforce.

Those include reporting a theft or loss of a firearm within 48 hours of knowing a firearm is stolen and extending curfew hours for minors on parole and probation for a charge related to a gun.

The first, Staton said, is a common sense approach.

“If someone has it (a gun) stolen, they should report it as quick as they can. It’s important to know where firearms are at.”

Yet, Staton said there already is a state law governing that.

“Falling on the ordinance would be a last resort,” he said. “It’s more or less a tool.”

As for the second, regarding curfews for juveniles with gun-related criminal histories, Staton said of his decision to enforce this part of the ordinance: “It keeps guns out of the hands of gang members and gives us a better tool to utilize when involved with gang-related activity.”

Several Corbett residents were puzzled by the sudden effort by county commissioners to adopt the ordinance.

One man asked, if Oregon statutes on firearms are already in place, why add a new ordinance?

Staton said he did not vote on the ordinance because he is not a member of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.

And further, he said he wasn’t aware of the ordinance until four days prior to its presentation, giving his office no time for research.

“When they structured this ordinance, the sheriff’s office was not actively involved.”

Staton said the commissioners were in a hurry.

“To this day, I don’t know why,” he said.

County Commissioner Diane McKeel, also at the meeting, said she was out of town when the commissioners were deciding to move forward with the ordinance.

“This ordinance was rushed,” she said. “I agree the process should have been better.”

Yet, while admitting she had not had enough time for a thorough review, McKeel voted yes on the ordinance, which disturbed several Corbett residents.

But after she was presented the ordinance and read it, she said, “My question consistently was: Does this ordinance negatively affect any law-abiding responsible gun owner? And I was told no by every public safety person I talked to. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but that was the information I had. I have a good relationship with other commissioners. Normally, they don’t try to cram these things down our throats,” she said.

Residents expressed their frustration.

“It is unconscionable to have a board of commissioners making legislation without talking to the sheriff,” said a Corbett man sitting in the crowd. “It seems to me the other folks are tone deaf at best.”

Others felt misinformed from the beginning and questioned why they, citizens, had no voice in the decision.

“When ordinances like this happen out of the blue, it forces us to go somewhere else to get the information,” another person said.

He said as a voter it’s frustrating that he was not able to voice his opinion in the matter.

Residents were reassured that officers were not going to go to extraordinary lengths to arrest people with concealed handgun permits so long as they are not violating state rules or using firearms in a threatening or menacing manner.

Firearm-related arrests are up to the discretion of the sheriff’s office, Brosh said.

“Remember, we have a great deal of discretion. The sheriff is enforcer of county code. If we don’t charge you, nobody’s going to.”

But people asked, what happens 10 years down the road when a new sheriff who may follow a different agenda takes office?

Officials had few clear answers.

A resident asked if McKeel would tackle this point directly.

She replied, “Sure.”

Staton said, “We all realize there are language problems in this ordinance. We will look for ways to improve the ordinance. That’s all we can do at this point.”

The sheriff said residents could email him their concerns.

“We still have an opportunity to make changes to the ordinance,” he said. “These are things that can be adjusted, language can be changed.”

He also suggested expressing changes to the ordinance in a charter review, conducted by citizens every six years.

Several Corbett gun-owners felt the ordinance puts their liberties at stake.

“One of the problems with do-gooder gun-crime people is they are incredibly ignorant about firearms in general and the laws,” said one man in the audience.

“We are passing laws upon laws and infringing upon on legal citizens,” Corbett resident John Quincy Adams told The Outlook after the meeting.

“They treat the honest citizens harsher than the criminals,” said his wife, Sandra.

Next stop on the sheriff’s list of unincorporated communities to inform about the ordinance: Sauvie Island.