November 30, 2021

2nd Amendment sanctuary push spreads across US

‘The next step’

Photo illustration/Metro Creative

More than 400 municipalities in at least 20 states have adopted laws opposing state or federal gun laws, according to The Trace, a nonprofit news group that focuses on gun issues. The towns of Solon, Truxton and Cincinnatus are among those that have adopted such measures referred to as Second Amendment sanctuary laws.

First Solon, then Truxton, now Cincinnatus. In the past three months, the three towns have passed laws that would prohibit the enforcement of future state gun regulations in those towns.

What does this mean? Why are these towns doing this? And what’s next?

‘Let’s stand up’

Solon Town Supervisor Steve Furlin said he wanted his town to take a stand against what he sees as state overreach in violation of individual rights. He wanted to pass a law that would make a strong policy statement against any future gun laws the state might pass.

“We have a governor that seems very comfortable with taking away home rule and taking away the rights of individuals. …That needs to be addressed right now, and nobody wants to talk about it,” he said. “So let’s stand up. Let’s at least say something. Because where does it stop? Where do you draw the line? Where does it end?”

These sentiments have met with wide support in all three towns. In public hearings for these laws, a large majority of residents spoke in favor of passing the laws.

These laws — so-called Second Amendment sanctuary laws — have proven popular elsewhere. In 2019, more than 120 localities in Virginia passed similar laws in the span of two months. More than 400 municipalities in at least 20 states have adopted laws opposing state or federal gun laws, according to The Trace, a nonprofit news group that focuses on gun issues.

What the laws say

What do the gun laws for Solon, Truxton and Cincinnatus say?

All three laws prohibit any town official or employee from participating in the enforcement of future state gun laws or from using town funds to aid in such enforcement.

The laws for Solon and Cincinnatus also allow residents to sue anyone accused of violating the law in state Supreme Court for “declaratory and injunctive relief, damages, and attorney fees” as well as civil fines between $500 and $2,000. Truxton’s law lacks this provision.

All three laws have the following exceptions. They do not: Apply to convicted felons or those prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law.

“Prohibit in any way the prosecution of any crime for which the use of, or possession of, a firearm is an aggregating factor or enhancement to an otherwise independent crime.”

Allow firearms possession in areas where they are now prohibited by law. The laws do not apply to the enforcement of existing state gun laws, including the 2013 SAFE Act.

Most of these laws are drawn from a template created by the Gun Owners of America, a progun group that takes an even harder line on gun rights than the National Rifle Association.

But these laws are also primarily policy statements, as Furlin has said. None of these towns have police of their own, and the chances are small that these laws would have practical application.

The Cortland County Sheriff’s Office will continue to enforce state laws, regardless of the local gun laws, Sheriff Mark Helms said.

“I understand where all these people are coming from, and I don’t have an issue with it by any means,” he said. “But these laws don’t affect me. … It would affect local enforcement. But they don’t have local enforcement.”

Looking ahead

But while these laws are unlikely to have practical application, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have unforeseen consequences.

This has been the primary objection brought up by the few local critics.

Truxton Town Supervisor Lloyd Sutton is one. While the boards of Solon and Cincinnatus voted unanimously to pass their laws, Truxton’s law passed narrowly; 3-2, with Sutton and board member Molly McDermott voting against it. Truxton also dropped a provision from the law that would have allowed residents to sue town officials for up to $2,000 for cooperating with the enforcement of future state gun laws, and Sutton pushed for this to be dropped.

Sutton isn’t a gun hater. Quite the opposite, in fact. He’s a big gun rights supporter, and he agrees with Furlin and other proponents of these laws that New York has overreached.

Instead, his problem with the law is legal and practical.

“What I’m trying to do is think two or three steps down the road,” he said.

While Truxton, like the other towns, lacks a police department, it does have a town judge. Sutton is worried the law would force the judge into an impossible position — to uphold state law, on the one hand, while enforcing a contradictory local law on the other.

“We’re saying that they’re not allowed to find someone guilty that was charged under this law,” he said. “So consequently he (the judge) has a conflict.”

Sutton thinks this would force the judge to recuse, which would bump a case into another jurisdiction that doesn’t have such law.

“Which would defeat the purpose,” he said. “Why would we want to take it out of the hands of a local town justice and have it decided in another town or another county?”

‘A very uncomfortable position’

Furthermore, the law has no teeth, Sutton said, and it was passed in anticipation of the New York Legislature passing more gun controls this year, which didn’t happen.

But overall, the law, while serving no practical purpose, sets up potential future problems, Sutton said.

“My feeling was that it just put us in a very uncomfortable position, and I really didn’t think it accomplished anything,” he said.

Alison King, the only Solon resident to voice concerns about the law at the March 5 town meeting, said she was worried about its legal consequences and whether it might interfere with the enforcement of extreme risk protection orders.

She also said that since it “would be enforced through lawsuits … the main impact of this proposed law would be income for lawyers without meaningful benefit to residents of Solon.”

Robert Spitzer, who has written extensively on the history of U.S. gun policy and is chairman of the political science department at SUNY Cortland, has broader political and legal questions.

“One concern is that it breeds contempt for the law, generally speaking,” Spitzer said. “It’s simply incompatible with any idea of good government.”

Hannah Friedman, staff attorney for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said these laws “are legally insupportable and practically dangerous” because localities “lack the legal authority to say they won’t enforce a state law.”

“It’s kind of like a child says, ‘I’m not going to comply with your bed times any more’ … But the parents decide the bed time, not the child,” Friedman said.

She also said the laws create confusion about what gun laws apply in municipalities with these laws. There have been cases, she said, in which people living in these municipalities have possessed or sold guns when they were legally prohibited from doing so, but have claimed they thought the local laws gave them that right.

A municipal model

Furlin has been explicit from the start: He hopes that Solon provides a model for other municipalities, nearby and across the state.

“We have to take things little bites at a time, and that’s what we’re doing,” Furlin said.

Solon passed its law on March 5. Truxton followed on March 18 and Cincinnatus passed a law almost identical to Solon’s Thursday night.

The towns of Cuyler and Willet and the Village of McGraw have considered such proposals, and the town of Marathon is drafting a similar law. Furlin has said he has also heard from interested municipal leaders in Cayuga County.

The idea, however, has not caught on in every town.

Virgil town board members discussed the idea March 12, but it never went anywhere after that. Board member Jereme Stiles said board members had concerns about the long-term implications, and it was now a “dead issue.”

“It wasn’t something the town board needed to take action on,” he said. “It wasn’t something the town board needed to get involved in.”

‘That’s the goal’

Ultimately, the goal is to get the Cortland County Legislature to adopt a similar law, Furlin said.

“That would be the next step,” he said.

“That’s the goal — if every town passes this law … that then the county would pass it, or something similar to it,” said Gus Wehbe, a Truxton board member and former supervisor.

Paul Heider, the chairman of the county legislature, represents the very legislative district — including Solon, Truxton and Cuyler — that the idea came from.

So far, the topic has not been discussed in public meetings or appeared on any committee agenda, but Heider, a Republican, said he is open to hearing proposals if there is enough popular support.

“I’ll do what the majority of our county wants to do,” Heider said. “If the towns come to us, our legislature will certainly listen.”

But Republicans outnumber Democrats on the legislature by just one member, and Democrats are unlikely to support such a law.

Minority Leader Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) said he would not be in favor of such a proposal.

“Fundamentally, I am against this idea of Second Amendment sanctuary localities…,” he said. “We as elected officials don’t get to pick and choose which laws we want to enforce.”