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Legislatively Speaking

Lena C. Taylor

By now, many of you have heard that Wisconsin’s Florence County has passed a resolution declaring the county as a Second Amendment sanctuary, or “gun sanctuary county” as such designations have been commonly referred. Joining a handful of states and municipalities around the nation, the Wisconsin county has now joined a list of communities that have adopted rules to use their own discretion about which gun control measures to enforce or ignore. Under the guise of the Second Amendment, many of the gun sanctuary counties and the four states, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, and Wyoming, have enacted these resolutions to oppose emergency protection orders, enforcement of gun background checks, and red flag laws that allow a family member or law enforcement officer to petition a state court to temporarily remove a person’s firearm. This request would be made if a person appeared or was suspected of posing a threat to themselves or others.

In September, my colleague Rep. Melissa Sargent and I authored such a law. The Extreme Risk Protection Order, or ERPO, would expand upon already existing temporary restraining order measures, which prohibit people with domestic abuse or child protection injunctions against them from purchasing or possessing firearms. In considering such a law, it needs to be understood that the framers of the constitution didn’t guarantee the right to gun ownership under any circumstances. Red Flag laws, universal background checks, regulations on bump stocks and the like, are examples of measures intended to address questionable circumstances.

The reality is that such resolutions are generally illegal in most instances, where state laws dictate gun control and ownership requirements. In the case of the four states that have passed such resolutions, the application and the enforcement of those resolutions are likely different. While there has been a push to create these gun sanctuary counties by some, it is clear that 17 states and the District of Columbia have implemented similar laws, that have proven to be effective in reducing deaths from gun violence. More importantly, we should be clear that Florence County’s resolution does two things. It confuses who is responsible for making laws and who is responsible for enforcing laws.

For example, the resolution cites requirements of firearms owner identification cards or firearms or ammunition taxes as examples of laws that the county Sheriff could choose not to enforce. While law enforcement has discretion in who they arrest, in some instances, they do not decide which laws should be enforced. The second issue with the premise of the county’s resolution is that the term sanctuary, which implies “a place of refuge and protection”, seems to only apply to the rights of gun owners. There should be an expectation of protection for everyone. I have supported measures like the Castle Doctrine and believe in the right of citizens to bear arms. However, I support the rights of everyone to be safe.

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