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Columbia City retreats from gun control measure

Chambers fill with gun advocates as council strikes out part of code


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Columbia City Mayor Cheryl Young (center-right) reads an ordinance at the Thursday, March 20, meeting of the City Council of Columbia City. Young recommended the council vote for a full repeal of a section of the municipal code adopted in 2005 that City Attorney Harold Olsen (right) described as unconstitutional and overly expansive.The City Council of Columbia City acted Thursday, March 20, to eliminate the mayor’s authority to ban weapons from the streets of Columbia City in the event of an emergency, drawing applause from a large crowd of gun rights supporters.

The Council Chambers were packed at the start of Thursday’s regular meeting — normally a sedate affair, with few members of the public usually turning up to watch the proceedings or address the council.

The controversy over an obscure section of Columbia City code — adopted by the City Council in November 2005 as part of a larger ordinance on emergency procedures in the city — began when City Attorney Harold Olsen informed the council earlier this month a provision allowing the mayor to ban “the sale, carrying, or possession of any weapons or explosives of any kind” in public during a state of emergency appeared to conflict with state and federal law, including the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms. He said he had received complaints from both gun rights advocates and gun control proponents over the provision.

The City Council came prepared to act on the matter Thursday.

Olsen set out a draft ordinance amending the 2005 section of code to specify that the mayor can only prevent the possession and carrying of a loaded firearm in public during a state of emergency — and establishing a long list of people exempt from such a decree, including active and retired police officers, holders of concealed-carry licenses, people hunting or fishing legally, members of the military acting in an official capacity, and people authorized by the chief of the Columbia City Police Department to carry loaded guns in public, among others.

But he also offered another option: full repeal of the provision.

“This would be my recommendation, or my own personal opinion, as to the one we should go with,” Mayor Cheryl Young said of the latter option.

Columbia City Police Chief Mike McGlothlin said repealing the offending part of code would not affect his departmental operations. The vast majority of charges from Columbia City police arrests, he said, are for violations of Oregon state law, not municipal code — and state law already makes it illegal for people to carry loaded guns in public without the proper authorization or permit.

“It’s already covered under state law, so it’s kind of redundant to have it in our city [code],” Young observed later in the meeting.

After McGlothlin and Olsen spoke, Young asked if anyone in the room was opposed to repealing the provision. No one answered in the affirmative.

On a suggestion from City Council Member Sally Ann Marson, the council approved a procedural maneuver to make the repeal effective immediately. The council then unanimously voted in favor of a full repeal, to applause from the audience.

Several attendees, including candidate for Columbia County commissioner Wayne Mayo of Scappoose and St. Helens School District board member Ray Biggs, who lives in Columbia City, stood to thank the council for its action.

“I’d like to add my congratulations to the repeal of the ordinance,” said Biggs. He went on to suggest other gun control laws and judicial rulings are unconstitutional and ineffectual, reminding the council members, “Each and every one of you took an individual oath to the Constitution. ... As far as the safety factor, well, [when] there is an emergency and you’ve got some perps running out there with guns, that’s when you want the honest citizens to have guns.”

In response to another attendee’s prediction that news of the council vote will spread across the Internet, Young quipped, “Well, I’ll wait for [Fox News commentator] Bill O’Reilly to call me then.”

Olsen also noted that March 20 was the International Day of Happiness, a holiday proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012.

“You made a lot of people happy today,” Olsen told the council and mayor.