The danger of Second Amendment sanctuaries

Editor’s note:  The following OpEd was published in the May 20, 2021 edition of the Charlotte Sun.

By Teresa Jenkins, Charlotte County Democratic Party Chair

On May 11, Charlotte County commissioners declared Charlotte County a “Second Amendment sanctuary” that purports to hinder or prevent the enforcement of certain gun safety laws. Similar resolutions have passed in other counties in Florida and around the country.

Proponents of these resolutions pronounce any gun-control legislation as unconstitutional, whether it requires background checks or a waiting period, bans bump-stock devices that allow for rapid fire, or outlaws assault-style rifles. Rather than engaging in a discussion of proposed legislation, some Charlotte County citizens, abetted by their local elected officials, have whipped up hysteria around potential new gun laws — part of an age-old conspiracy about liberals who “want to take your guns.”

Passage of such resolutions is purely a symbolic act as a local government cannot simply thumb its nose at any state or federal law it doesn’t like. Charlotte County does not have the prerogative to declare a state or federal law unconstitutional without involving the courts. So, if the passage of this resolution in Charlotte County is purely symbolic, should we be concerned? Yes, for three reasons.

First, what these elected officials, and citizens who support them, are saying is that they oppose any and all state and federal laws that might infringe on a person’s rights as a gun owner. This includes laws supported by a majority of Americans such as expanded background checks on sales of firearms and a ban on assault weapons.

Second, designation as a Second Amendment sanctuary county can easily be mis-construed by those who incorrectly believe the Second Amendment entitles them to unfettered access to guns. There has been an alarming uptick in incidents of armed protesters asserting that their right to bear arms eclipses every other right including public health and safety. These resolutions, therefore, have the potential to encourage extremists and to foment violence, underscoring the danger of this misleading narrative.

Third, the chair of the Charlotte County Commission’s language during the hearings on the resolution, “…if you say you don’t like it, move,” undermines legitimate arguments for common-sense gun safety laws and makes it more difficult to counter propaganda with fact and reason. In this way, the commissioner does not portend to protect all citizen’s freedoms; rather his words seek to secure control over public discourse. There are civil liberties that are the bedrock of our country: freedom of speech, and the rights to peacefully assemble and petition the government. When elected officials protect the rights of one group of people but not another, these freedoms erode. If elected officials can arbitrarily silence differing opinions and perspectives and seek to intimidate those who do not agree with their decisions, we’re all at risk.

The exaggerated fear over reasonable gun safety laws proposed by the White House has led to a dangerous movement that allows local governments to declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. And while such resolutions lack legal effect, the message that they send to those who wish to do harm to anyone who disagrees or purports to pass sensible gun safety laws is all too clear, and all too dangerous.