The Florence County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously last week to become a Second Amendment sanctuary county, becoming the first county in Wisconsin to join a movement that in the past year has begun to grow rapidly across the country.
A Second Amendment sanctuary generally refers to towns, cities, and counties that pass resolutions prohibiting the use of the municipality's resources to enforce laws the jurisdiction deems to be unconstitutional by virtue of violating the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Most jurisdictions passing such resolutions also refuse to recognize as legitimate any laws the municipality deems to violate the Second Amendment.
Depending on the municipality, such laws have included universal background checks, the establishment of a gun registry, and so-called red flag laws which allow law enforcement or family members to petition a court for the temporary seizure of firearms from people they believe might pose a danger to themselves or others.
Florence County sheriff Dan Miller said the resolution was a popular one in the county.
"You can tell tonight we had a full county board room, which usually is not the case, so there is a lot of support here," Miller told WLUC TV. "This is what we should do, is send a message to Madison, and it's going to be out to the other counties in the state of Wisconsin and you know they can do the same thing if they want."
In that vein, Oneida County sheriff Grady Hartman told The Lakeland Times he thought such a resolution would be a good topic for the Oneida County board of supervisors to take up.
"I think this is a bold move by the Florence County board," Hartman told The Times. "I agree with my fellow sheriff, Dan Miller, that the topic of gun control is very concerning to the citizens in the Northwoods. I think there are a lot of citizens who are interested in knowing whether or not their elected officials will stand up for their constitutional rights and live out the oaths of their offices when the pressure is on."
Like Miller, Hartman said he heard from many constituents about gun-rights issues.
"I have received more comments on this issue, the Second Amendment, than any other issue in my seven years as sheriff," he said. "I think a resolution like this would be a good issue for our county board to debate."
The Florence County resolution stated that "the people of Florence County hereby declare it to be a Second Amendment sanctuary county," and it embraced both planks of the sanctuary movement - prohibiting the appropriation of county dollars to enforce any laws the county considers in violation of the Second Amendment, and refusing to recognize those laws as valid.
"Be it further resolved that the Florence County board will not appropriate any funds for any enforcement of unconstitutional laws against the people of Florence County," the resolution stated. "Therefore be it hereby resolved that the people of Florence County do hereby oppose the enactment of any legislation that would infringe upon the right of the people to keep and bear arms and consider such laws to be unconstitutional and beyond lawful legislative authority."
The resolution also affirmed the county's support for the sheriff to use his "sound discretion" to not enforce against any citizen an unconstitutional firearms law.
A growing movement
The Second Amendment sanctuary movement has been around for a few years, mostly in western states, but the movement has begun to grow widely and rapidly in the last year as some states have begun to move toward passing red-flag laws, and after increasing numbers of prominent Democrats have begun to call for outright gun confiscation, especially of popular semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15.
While most Democrats call their plans mandatory gun buy-back programs, then presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke was more candid in a presidential debate earlier this year: "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47, we're not going to allow it to be used on fellow Americans anymore," he said.
Gov. Tony Evers said he was open to a buy-back plan proposed at the time by O'Rourke, and most recently convened a special session of the Legislature to try and pass both a red flag law and a universal background check bill. The Republican controlled Legislature did not take up the legislation.
However, as Democrats have become bolder and more focused on gun control, the Second Amendment sanctuary movement has come alive.
On Nov. 4, the nation's fifth largest county by geography, Mohave County in Arizona, became a Second Amendment sanctuary, the first county in that state to do so.
"There is traction to implement gun control laws, even here in Arizona," said board chairman Hildy Angius. "I refuse to let that happen here in Mohave County without a fight."
Echoing law enforcement in Wisconsin, Mohave County sheriff Doug Schuster said the resolution affirmed his oath to defend rights afforded under the state and federal constitutions.
"The day they outlaw guns is the day your sheriff becomes an outlaw," Schuster said.
Closer to home, in neighboring Illinois, more than half of that state's counties - 66 out of 102 - have either designated themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries or the state's attorney in the county has vowed not to prosecute unconstitutional gun laws, and the same is true in Colorado, where 38 of that state's 64 counties have become Second Amendment sanctuaries. In Washington state, the number is 24 out of 39 counties adopting sanctuary resolutions; in New Mexico, at least 21 out of 33.
Even in New York state, where no county has passed a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution, 52 of 62 counties have opposed the SAFE gun control legislation enacted in 2013, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called the toughest gun control law in the nation.
Several states have gotten into the act. In 2013, for example, Alaska enacted a law declaring any law null and void and of no effect in the state if it intends or does confiscate or ban firearms, or limits the size of a magazine for any firearm, or requires the registration of any firearm or its ammunition.
Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming "Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story" and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.
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