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February 26, 2020

1/18/2020 7:30:00 AM
St. Germain board to pose Second Amendment sanctuary question to voters via referendum
Fred Williston
Special to the Lakeland Times

The St. Germain town board voted Monday to take the question of whether their community should be a "Second Amendment sanctuary" to the voters in the form of a referendum.

The notion of "sanctuary" communities came about in the last few years as traditionally left-leaning cities (San Francisco, as an example) optws not to enforce - or assist in enforcing - federal immigration laws.

Recently, right-leaning communities have adopted the same tactic in support of their own agendas. The concept of sanctuaries for firearm rights has mostly come about as a reaction to politics in Virginia, where Democrats control both houses of the legislature and the governor's office. At least four pieces of legislation have been introduced in that state as gun-control measures. Anticipating those proposed changes to gun laws would infringe upon an individual's Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, dozens of municipalities and counties have declared themselves sanctuaries where unconstitutional new laws will not be recognized or enforced.

Within the last few months, the Second Amendment movement has spread beyond Virginia. It is now taking hold in Wisconsin. Late in 2019, Florence County was the first in the Badger State to declare itself a gun-rights sanctuary. On Tuesday night, the Merrill City Council voted to make the municipality the first sanctuary city in the state.

Last month, town supervisor Brian Cooper introduced a resolution to make St. Germain a gun-rights haven, as well. The town board took no action at that time and resumed discussion of the issue on Monday as dozens of citizens attended the meeting.

Cooper explained his motivation for proposing the resolution in the first place. "It's not a political thing," he said. "It's a constitutional thing...We have a Second Amendment and a host of other rights; we all do. We should all be thinking about protecting all of our rights. Because once one goes away, there's going to be more to follow."

Reactions from the audience were mixed.

Bob Conner, president of the Boulder Junction Shooting Range, said "I would like to thank the town for bringing up this resolution and I'm 100% behind passing it...I realize it's just symbolic, but it's a good symbol and I'm all for it."

Kathy Mitchell, a resident of Vilas County (but not of St. Germain) said "What's happening in Virginia is not a 'what if?'. We need to protect our rights."

St. Germain resident Jon Reuling balked at the notion of a town board taking such action.

"When I cast my vote," he said, "I was thinking more of you guys fixing roads and doing this and that for the town; I really wasn't looking at you making a decision of this magnitude."

Tony Waisbrot, also a town resident, said "The town board should not be getting into the middle of something that's unenforceable. It may be a policy issue, but it doesn't have the effect of law. We shouldn't be defying the state legislature...The mistake with this is that it paints it with a broad brush. What you need to do is consider each individual law as it is proposed...You can't just outlaw all laws regarding guns."

"That's not what this (resolution) says," replied board chairman Tom Christensen. "We're talking about unconstitutional gun laws...We're not overriding any laws; we're not overriding the sheriff's department."

Christensen then read from the drafted resolution: "The people of the Town of St. Germain, Wisconsin affirms its support of the Sheriff of Vilas County, Wisconsin, to exercise sound discretion not to enforce against any citizen an unconstitutional firearms law."

"I have a lot of guns," Waisbrot said. "Nobody's taken them away. They've passed laws at state legislatures to try to make us safer. Nobody's ever come to confiscate my guns. That's a right-wing conspiracy theory: that they're going to pass a law and then come and get your guns. Nobody's going to do that to anybody. I'm not sure why we'd want to get involved with it since it involves powers above the town."

Cooper replied, "We (town supervisors) all took an oath of office to protect the constitution of the state and the country when we were sworn in; all five of us. So, it's not 'above' us."

Christensen also responded to Waisbrot's statement. "You made a comment that it's a 'right-wing conspiracy'," he said. "If we take a little look at some of the things that have happened in the last few years, if we go back to 2016 when Donald Trump came down the escalators in his building and announced that he was running for president, I think every person in the media laughed. I think even Fox News laughed. I think everyone said 'Yeah; right!'. And then they got past it and said 'Oh, well, he is going to run; but there's no way he's getting elected - that just isn't going to happen!' And what happened in Texas in - I believe - the last Democratic debate, Beto O'Rourke said 'If I get elected, I'm coming for your guns'. So, in today's world, we might all sit here and say 'Beto O'Rourke has no chance whatsoever of getting elected', but a lot of people said that about Donald Trump, and he is now our president. So, it's not a 'right-wing conspiracy' thing; the left wing has as much to do with starting this as anybody does."

"Let's survey people and find out what the larger opinion is," Waisbrot said. "If anything else, I guess I'd ask the board to take it a little more slowly."

Cooper said while he had received numerous calls and comments from those in support of the resolution, he also received multiple emails discouraging its enactment. One such email concerned potentially adverse effects to the town's tourism industry as visitors might be scared away from the area.

Penny Strom, executive director of the St. Germain Chamber of Commerce, said "As long as I've been in this role, I've never had a call, even if we have concealed carry or anything like that. There's never once - to my knowledge - been any concern about that."

Vilas County Sheriff Joe Fath was also in attendance.

"As a resident of St. Germain, do you have any concerns about this?"Cooper asked him.

"No," Fath replied. "And I don't oppose it." However, he did say if the resolution were to pass, "It's not going to have much of an impact on the sheriff's office."

Christensen opened the floor to anyone with comments or questions for either the sheriff or the town board members. At that point, the Lakeland Times took an impromptu poll of everyone in the room. "With a show of hands," the question was posed, "Who here would be opposed to this resolution if it were a First Amendment proposal asking Sheriff Fath to safeguard our rights to free speech, free assembly, religious freedom, and a free press?"

At least 36 people were in attendance. No one raised a hand or voiced an objection.

Carolyn Ritter, a town resident (and also a Vilas County supervisor), addressed the board. "You're being put in a position of making a decision for the town," she said. "And the reality is that while you've heard from some people - both for and against this - there is a huge silent majority out there. And I'm wondering whether...there is a way you could somehow survey? Or if there could be a way to put this on the April ballot...Instead of you (the town board) having to make the decision and guess what you feel your residents would want, you could let them make the decision."

"I agree that we don't really know where the town stands," Christensen said. "And I'm not so sure that we need to react at this time. We might be premature and I'm not sure that we have to be leading the pack."

Town supervisor Ted Ritter, Carolyn's husband, also weighed in. "Based on the emails, letters, and phone calls that I've received - there was one individual who supported this resolution and the rest were vehemently opposed to it - I do believe that there is some misunderstanding of the resolution...Bottom line is, if there was a motion made tonight to adopt this resolution, I would vote against it. If there was a motion tonight to put this as a referendum on the April ballot, would provide an opportunity for a much larger group of St. Germain voters to give us their thoughts on it. I would support doing that."

The board then voted unanimously to pose a referendum question to voters on April's election ballot as to whether or not to adopt a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution. After the votes are tallied, supervisors will revisit the subject at a board meeting following the election.

In a follow-up interview with the Lakeland Times, Cooper said, "I'm not disappointed in that it's going to the referendum. I think that any time the people can tell us what we need to do or give us direction, that's always a good thing."

"I am disappointed in all the people that have called and met me in person to voice their support for this resolution that did not show up at the meeting last night," he said. "I think a lot of people were against this because they don't understand what it is really all about."

"As far as this goes," Cooper continued, "If we don't pass it; if the people don't want a resolution, well, fine and dandy...But I've got a feeling that Vilas County will take it up. And if not Vilas, then Oneida. Or Marathon, or whomever. I planted the seed and that's the best I can do."

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