The Ashland City Council has asked the city legal department to further research proposed gun regulations that could spur costly litigation if adopted.
The council discussed the proposed regulations during a Monday night study session that attracted an overflow crowd of people concerned about gun violence in America as well as infringements on their Second Amendment rights to have guns.
The issue will return to the council at a future regular meeting, where councilors could decide to adopt regulations, reject them or refer the issue to voters.
A group of Ashland residents has asked the council to ban the carrying of loaded guns in public.
A number of other Oregon cities have adopted such bans. Portland's ban has been upheld in court, according to City Attorney David Lohman.
The proposed Ashland ban isn't substantially different than Portland's ban.
Enforcing a ban on the carrying of loaded weapons in public could be problematic if a police officer stopped and searched the gun owner, Lohman said.
That could be a violation of constitutional prohibitions against searches conducted without reasonable suspicion, he said.
"If someone were arrested and tried and convicted under this element, there's a good chance it would be challenged in court and we would be dealing with litigation," Lohman said.
He said a legal challenge over gun restrictions in Ashland could attract the interest of outside parties.
"Larger forces get involved and it turns into major litigation," he said.
While a violation of an Ashland gun regulation would be heard in municipal court, the person charged could take the case to the Circuit Court level, where attorney fees for Ashland could surpass $150,000, Lohman said.
Legal costs would grow if the case continued on to the Oregon Court of Appeals, the Oregon Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.
If Ashland lost the fight, it could be ordered to pay the other side's attorney fees, Lohman said.
Ashland would also wade into uncertain legal territory if it adopted other proposed regulations, including that people store guns in ways that prevent unauthorized access by children, he said.
The Oregon Firearms Federation has already vowed to sue Ashland if it enforces any regulation regarding the storage of guns.
The group has also urged gun owners to avoid vacationing in the town.
Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness said that Ashland has experienced relatively little gun violence.
In the past five years, Ashland experienced nine robberies where a gun was displayed and two felony assault cases where a gun was fired, he said.
It would be up to the council or the community to decide if local gun regulations should be adopted, Holderness said.
"It's more a statement of community values than something we deal with on a regular basis," he said.
Ashland resident Daisy Hering said she and about 30 other people are involved in bringing forward the proposed gun regulations.
"We're mostly parents of small children and we don't like all the accidents and intentional shootings taking place in this country," she said.
Hering said the regulations are practical, common sense ideas.
Christopher Lloyd, who brought a pistol and AR-15 rifle to Monday's council meeting, said criminals don't obey gun regulations, so the restrictions would only impact law-abiding gun owners.
He said people who carry loaded guns in public could stop a mass shooter.
"A good person with a gun stops a bad person with a gun," Lloyd said.
Carrying a loaded weapon in public is legal in Oregon if a person does not try to conceal the weapon.
People who carry concealed guns must have concealed weapons permits.
The proposed ban on carrying loaded guns in public would not apply to people with those permits, police officers and several other categories of people.
The National Rifle Association recommends that people always keep their guns unloaded until ready for use.
The NRA also recommends storing guns in ways that make them inaccessible to children and other unauthorized people.
"Gun shops sell a wide variety of safes, cases, and other security devices. While specific security measures may vary, a parent must, in every case, assess the exposure of the firearm and absolutely ensure that it is inaccessible to a child," the NRA recommends on its website.
Free gun trigger locks are available at the Ashland Police Department, 1155 E. Main St.