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The Gun Sanctuary Movement Is Exploding

Conservatives have railed for years against so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, criticizing localities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration policies they deem heartless and ineffective. In the past year, however, some conservative lawmakers have taken a page from the progressive playbook, employing sanctuary imagery in opposition to gun safety legislation they deem to be an unconstitutional restriction of their rights under the Second Amendment.

The two approaches are classic cases of false equivalency. Jurisdictions that proclaim themselves sanctuaries for immigrants do not seek to violate the law; they simply refuse to engage local law enforcement in supporting actions that are federal responsibilities. They do not block the law, but simply insist that it should be enforced by those who have the responsibility to do so. For some proponents of so-called gun sanctuaries, however, the goal is to prevent enforcement of state law that the jurisdiction (not a court) deems unconstitutional.

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The emergence of these sanctuaries demonstrates a growing rift.

The Tazewell County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors recently jumped aboard the fast-moving Second Amendment sanctuaries train. In doing so, it embraced positions fundamentally at odds with state and federal constitutional law. Passing resolutions opposing certain laws or protesting governmental action is perfectly consistent with our traditions as a democracy, and no one should oppose the rights of citizens and their representatives to speak their minds. But Tazewell and a number of other localities across Virginia want to do much more. As Eric Young, an attorney and the county administrator, put it, “Our position is that Article I, Section 13, of the Constitution of Virginia reserves the right to ‘order’ militia to the localities. Therefore, counties, not the state, determine what types of arms may be carried in their territory and by whom. So, we are ‘ordering’ the militia by making sure everyone can own a weapon.” Other counties are announcing different schemes if gun safety laws are enacted: For example, the Culpeper County sheriff pledged to deputize “thousands of our law-abiding citizens” so they can own firearms.

After Democrats won majorities in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly, fears of stricter gun regulations have inspired a rise in Second Amendment sanctuary activity in the state. Sanctuary efforts are driven mainly by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a group to the right of the NRA. My office’s analysis of recent news accounts indicates that before Nov. 5, just one county had passed a resolution; since the election, at least 71 localities (counties, cities, or towns) have passed some form of sanctuary resolution, and as many as 35 more are considering their adoption.

Second Amendment sanctuaries exploded onto the national scene in early 2019 after newly elected Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker pledged to pass gun safety measures in Illinois. Within months, 64 of the state’s 102 counties passed sanctuary resolutions. After New Mexico expanded background checks in 2019, 30 of 33 counties declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. Similar actions have either been taken or are under consideration in Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and now Virginia.

In some cases, these resolutions simply register an objection to any infringement on gun owners’ rights. But some Virginia localities have gone further, indicating that they will not enforce state law that they deem unconstitutional. Some proponents have even resurrected words like nullification and interposition, terms first used extensively by Southern secessionists prior to the Civil War and more recently during the “massive resistance” to federal laws requiring desegregation in the 1960s. They argue that constitutional officers in Virginia, such as commonwealth’s attorneys and sheriffs, have discretion not to enforce laws that they consider “unconstitutional.” In Virginia, there has always existed some debate about the independence of these officers, but, while they are creations of the Constitution, their duties are nonetheless “prescribed by general law or special act.” In short, sheriffs may be “constitutional officers,” but they are not “constitutional interpreters.”

The emergence of these sanctuaries demonstrates a growing rift in our nation. For residents in many rural areas, guns are viewed as part of a way of life. Most gun owners are law-abiding citizens, and any effort to limit anyone’s access to firearms is perceived as a direct attack on many things that they hold dear. During the Obama years, the manufacture and purchase of firearms increased in dramatic numbers in part due to unfounded fears that the government would try to take away guns.

At the same time, the general public is increasingly supportive of certain gun safety measures. An April 2018 poll found that 85 percent of registered voters support laws that would “allow the police to take guns away from people who have been found by a judge to be a danger to themselves or others” (71 percent “strongly supported”). These measures, called Extreme Risk Protection Orders, or red flag laws, create judicial procedures by which people with serious mental health challenges deemed a threat to themselves or others can have their weapons removed until their situations are resolved; courts can be engaged to protect the rights of the accused. And a March 2019 Quinnipiac poll reported that 93 percent of American voters support a bill that would require “background checks for all gun buyers.”

Recent polling in Virginia tells us that citizens of the commonwealth are in step with these national trends: Roanoke College’s Institute for Policy and Opinion Research recently released polling results that show that 84 percent of respondents favor universal background checks, and 74 percent support allowing a family member to seek an ERPO from a court. Yet in the very same pool of respondents, 47 percent believe it is more important to protect the right to own guns than to control gun ownership. The only way to make the math add up is to recognize that some people who strongly support Second Amendment rights may also support at least some reasonable gun safety measures—an approach the “sanctuary” advocates would never adopt. But even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia might have had problems with some of the arguments being advanced by proponents of sanctuaries. “Like most rights,” he wrote in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

In short, rights under the Second Amendment have never been absolute. And under both the national and state constitutions, our courts are tasked with determining the constitutionality of laws—not local sheriffs.

Proponents of Second Amendment sanctuaries have another problem in Virginia: The commonwealth is what we call a “Dillon’s Rule” state. This means that if a power is not specifically permitted to a locality, state law rules. Progressives have been especially critical of Dillon’s Rule arguments in years past, believing that they have prevented localities from enacting policies—from local minimum wage ordinances to gun prohibitions—that seek to go further than state law. They have rarely been concerned that more conservative localities, if granted greater “home rule,” might enact policies, such as environmental regulations or building codes, that are more lax than state law. The Second Amendment sanctuary rebellion may prompt some to reexamine their views about how much additional power should be granted to localities.

The Virginia state Legislature will soon consider several major gun safety measures, and opponents will likely strongly resist; as one county supervisor has said, “We need to show them a crowd like they have never seen. They need to be afraid and they should be afraid.” Legislators should always be attuned to any unintended consequences of the laws that they pass; that is one reason we have a deliberative process before bills are passed. But to leave the enforcement of duly passed laws totally in the hands of sheriffs and local officials with discretionary power to determine their constitutionality is a direct attack on republican government and the Constitution itself.

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33 comments

  1. The author’s logic and understanding of the constitution is flawed. Any actions to restrict the ownership or effect firearm confiscation is patently unconstitutional as subscribed by the second amendment and reinforced by the words of the founders themselves. These “modern” argument about restriction are nothing more that devices designed to subjugate the masses and take away God given rights. The concept of sanctuaries as applied to immigration is directly to violate FEDERAL LAWS by non-enforcement and to use taxpayer resources to support such illegal actions. The concept of sanctuaries to protect a God given right is to SUPPORT the Constitution. Read and understand your history, not some misguided view proposed by some idiot legislator who knows neither they nations history or its laws!

    • I disagree with this paragraph of the author.

      The two approaches are classic cases of false equivalency. Jurisdictions that proclaim themselves sanctuaries for immigrants do not seek to violate the law; they simply refuse to engage local law enforcement in supporting actions that are federal responsibilities. They do not block the law, but simply insist that it should be enforced by those who have the responsibility to do so.

      I know in California, they BLOCK the law. They even had a representative tweet out a warning to illegal immigrants that ICE was coming so they (the illegals) could hide! Furthermore, why is it a LAW in New York City if you say the words [illegal immigrant] you could be fined $250,000? Isn’t THAT blocking the law?

    • this is not a GOD GIVEN RIGHT it is the law of the US government enacted in 1775. You may be right in Your logic, wrong about who gave the laws.

      • We have the GOD-given rights to “…Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” So, the right to protect and defend that ‘life’ is considered GOD-given also.

  2. You can write all the bull you want, but we all know the government wants to unarm all the people. Gun violence doesn’t even begin to match other forms death. Protecting our kids are the first words out of the gun grabbers mouth and yet more children are killed each year riding bicycles. All the reasons are a scam to unarm and then control the people. If you can’t see that then you deserve what you get. And by the way, remember the old saying ” be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”

  3. The United States is a Republic not a democracy.

  4. I believe that the second amendment is all inclusive. The founding fathers never put any restrictions on gun rights when they easily could have. The second amendment is not written in unsure wording it is concise without any chance of being misunderstood or to need a judge to inturpete the meaning.

  5. After 200 years, central governments want to disarm Americans. It’s because they plan to do things, for which we would shoot them. If the 70,000,000 Americans, who own 400,000,000 guns, were the problem,
    YOU WOULD KNOW IT.

    • The Proto-Commies AKA Leftist Democrats have clearly lost their collective minds. They have impeached President Trump who defeated their corrupt queen, Hillary R. Clinton, who aspired to be the first “Her Royal Highness” of America. Mr. Trump has appointed, and Mitch McConnell has pushed through many conservative judges and two Supreme Court Justices. The latter has pushed the leftists to insane levels. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is not long for this world, and the Dems know it. They are desperate to prevent Mr. Trump from selecting a conservative replacement for her. I’m surprised they haven’t attempted to assassinate him and Mr. Pence at the same time to make Nancy Pelosi the president.

      I fear the day that conservatives will have to take violent action against the leftists is coming soon. And they will have brought it on themselves.

    • The 2nd amendment needs to be re-evaluated SERIOUSLY. It is outdated for our time & our way of living & even more our safety, w/ all the damn nuts running around this country nowadays. I used to hunt before college & 3 tours in Nam as a 1st class corpsman & being wounded seriously in 66 & 68 w 3 yrs in various V.A. hosp.’s & 57 surgeries my attitude changed about guns. I had a 357 contender w/ a built in scope, a 30/30, a 30.06, a 12 gage shotgun & a over & under & after I got home I gave them all away & have never touched a gun again. I eventually earned 2 more B.A.’s & later an MBA in a different field. I can’t understand why people need to have guns & some kill people w/ no reserve or feeling. All of the children who have been slaughtered over the last dozen or so years not counting the adults must have some meaning in this world & yet it tells me that if some are not protected then none are protected & guns have to go, period.

      • The only reason to eleminate civilian guns would be for government tyranny .Just look around the world and read history about the millions of people murdered by tyrannical governments .

      • Massively stupid people think the 2A is outdated. Massively stupid people try to use appeal to emotion to disarm America. When only governments and criminals are armed there is no safety and no security. Historically governments have killed millions of their own people. Governments will again kill millions of their own people in the future if they aren’t restrained by an armed population. That is human nature and that won’t change. History shows that disarming is always prelude to tyranny. If governments have no globalist NWO plans then why do they want to disarm America?

      • So, how are you going to convince the criminals and terrorists to give up their guns when the government comes knocking to take the legal citizen’s guns ,he has to protect his family with?

  6. When a government wants to disarm the population for the “good(?!?) of the nation” and for “Safety(?!?)”, WATCH OUT! it is for NEITHER. History has proven that out time and time again. Team Trump and his allies 2020 – KAGA (Keep America Great Again).

  7. If that is what Americans feel they have to do to keep the communist Democrats from taking away their freedoms I am 100% for it

  8. ⁸I wish N C would do the same.Dont want them to take our guns.

  9. So sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants is okay but sanctuary counties for guns aren’t. Ed

  10. Maybe we Americans don’t like the idea of the Liberal Communist Democrats passing unconstitutional laws to disarm us so that they can control us as they destroy America. The AR and AK weapons are exactly the type of weapons that the 2nd Amendment protects. the FBI’s own statistics show that every year more people are killed by knives than by ALL rifles, not just so called assault weapons, more people are killed with hammers and clubs every year than with ALL rifles, and more people are killed with hands and feet every year than with ALL rifles. Maybe people are the evil problem not firearms. Finally, the Liberal Communist Democrats will never be satisfied with banning only one class of firearms, they will only be satisfied when they have banned EVERY firearm in America. The Founding Fathers knew better than to ever trust a strong central government not to take over, this is why the Bill of Rights was created, and the 2nd Amendment is the one that protects the rest of them. The Founding Fathers knew that an armed population cannot be subdued and enslaved.

  11. Sasha Royale, JoeyP & James Clooney —GROW UP . I AM 76 YEARS OLD & HAVE SEEN MORE VIOLENCE THAN ALL OF YOU COMBINED. I was the Philly Assassin for 17 yrs. 122 wins , no losses & 82 K.O.’s in full contact martial arts w/ 17 blackbelts in 3 styles. If the gov’t wants your guns they will use tanks, rocket launchers, flame throwers, hand grenades & many other sophisticated weapons for witch all of your guns will be SERIOUSLY USELESS. Think for one moment though what if it saved the life of a loved one ( or more) or any dear friends of yours or even your own life. We live in a different time now & if not now , when do we get rid of them. The laws should change to. If you commit ANY CRIME w/ a gun & you are caught IT S/B A MANDATORY LIFE SENTENCE W/O ANY CHANCE OF PAROLE.

    • Jim, stick with things you know about. You know nothing about 4th generation warfare. It doesn’t matter how many “tanks, rocket launchers, flame throwers, hand grenades and many other sophisticated weapons” government has. And by the way none of those are “sophisticated weapons”. Appeal to emotion won’t work.

  12. Some people don’t need weapons they are weapons the rest of us need “ Equalizers”.

  13. Time for a BLACK FLAG law that imprisons ANY politician who attempts to infringe the constitutional rights of law abiding citizens. It should also be used on any POTENTIALLY CORRUPT politician that is suspected on being willing to accept bribes. After their term of office is over they are no longer a threat to the public and can be released.

  14. Here here Harley. I second that motion. The 2nd amendment clearly states Shall Not Be Infringed. I guess the pollytricksters feel they need to go against the Constitution and by the way…we need our guns more than ever with these tyrants on the loose.

  15. Who the hell wrote this POS article? The Constitution IS NOT a *living document* to be altered. It is stated clearly that the right to bear arms is in defence ought a tyrannical government seize power despite all safeguards.

    Yes, the big THEY have superior weaponry. So what? I see some folks using their service and life experience as shields to unconstitutional prior-tyrannical action of government. The “nuts” are not in the majority.

    All of you know bloody damned well that when the citizenry are disarmed, the social liabilities shall have access to these on the black market.

    All states ought to have so called standing ground laws. It is also my understanding that the authority of local sheriffs supersede other authorities, the Federal ones at least.

    To be utterly redundant, I echo what others have already said: ALL governments that have taken away fire arms from the citizenry ended up in insufferable totalitarian regimes. Crack a flaming history book or two FFS.

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