When she picked out her own handgun last fall, Ross went old school and chose a .357 Magnum revolver, which she says is simply made and easy to clean. It also has just the right firepower to protect her in her Gresham home, says Ross, a 52-year-old empty-nester.
So when Multnomah County commissioners unanimously passed a gun-control ordinance April 25, Ross says she was dismayed to learn it was intended to apply within Gresham city limits, even though the Gresham City Council hadn’t approved it.
“I think it’s just terrible, the way they would all have us be sitting ducks,” Ross says. “I want all the criminals to know that the county’s ordinance does not apply to Gresham, Fairview, Troutdale or any of the cities.”
Now, Ross is party to a tort claim filed by Portland lawyer Bruce McCain that contends county commissioners overstepped their bounds by including a clause stating that the gun-control law applies “countywide unless a city…enacts separate legislation on this same subject matter.”
The legislation—co-sponsored by County Chairman Jeff Cogen and Commissioner Deborah Kafoury—was deliberately written to make Multnomah County’s cities fall in line, Kafoury says.
“If they don’t have anything on the books, I think they should,” Kafoury says. “Most children who are killed by guns, the cause is a well-intentioned mom or dad who left their gun out, not shootings at Clackamas Town Center.”
The county’s gun-control ordinance mirrors one passed in Portland in 2010 after a spate of shootings. The ordinance makes it a crime to carry a loaded firearm in public, to fire a gun in Multnomah County, not to report a stolen firearm and not to keep guns locked near minors. It also establishes a tighter nighttime curfew for minors convicted of gun crimes.
The ordinance makes exceptions for law enforcement officers, those with concealed handgun licenses, hunting and a few other cases.
Kafoury says if a city has a law on the books about firing a gun within city limits, for example—as Gresham and Troutdale do—the city ordinance applies. But if a city has, say, no law about locking firearms and keeping them away from children—Gresham, Troutdale, Fairview, Wood Village and Maywood Park do not—the county’s law takes effect.
That’s creating some confusion for local jurisdictions. Gresham City Attorney David Ris says that since Gresham has laws pertaining to discharging firearms, the county has no authority over Gresham guns.
“We don’t feel that the county ordinance applies within the city of Gresham,” Ris says.
McCain, who filed the tort claim April 29, says he now plans to file an injunction and lawsuit to stop the county ordinance.
He says commissioners wrote the law to suggest their work is relevant to more than just the 24,000 residents of unincorporated Multnomah County.
“If the cities are included, about a quarter of a million people are affected,” McCain says. “This was a political move by county commissioners to give the impression that their county law applies to all cities.”
County spokesman David Austin says McCain is “flat-out wrong.”
“There are many regulatory matters within incorporated cities where county rules apply,” Austin says.
But Ross says she and other East Multnomah County residents are tired of having Portland-based politicians decide their fate.
“It doesn’t apply in our city limits unless our city councilors choose to make it apply,” Ross says. “To give the impression that it does, that’s just unfair. The criminals, the rapists, they always know where the gun-free zones are.”