Legislators ask Sherburne County to be ‘sanctuary’ from new gun laws

A customer fills out his federal background check paperwork.
A customer fills out his federal background check paperwork as he purchases a handgun at the K&W Gunworks store in Delray Beach, Fla. Several Minnesota legislators are asking Sherburne County to become a “Second Amendment sanctuary.”
Joe Raedle | Getty Images 2016

Updated: 2:04 p.m.

Several Minnesota legislators are asking Sherburne County to become a “Second Amendment sanctuary” by prohibiting the enforcement of new gun control measures they say would violate the Constitution.

If the county board approves, Sherburne County, northwest of the Twin Cities in central Minnesota, would be the first county in the state to take such action. But leaders of hundreds of cities and counties across the country have already vowed not to enforce gun control measures they view as an infringement on the right to bear arms, such as universal background checks for gun sales and bans on assault-style weapons.

The letter, sent to Sherburne County commissioners on Monday, was signed by several GOP state lawmakers, including Rep. Shane Mekeland of Clear Lake, Sen. Andrew Mathews of Princeton and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt of Crown.

“Anti-Second Amendment legislation is making headlines in our nation,” the letter reads. “With this backdrop, we respectfully urge the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners to adopt language that would make its jurisdiction a Second Amendment sanctuary county.”

The term is modeled after so-called “sanctuary cities” that have limited their cooperation with federal enforcement of certain immigration laws.

The request comes as the Legislature gears up for a fierce debate over DFL proposals for new gun restrictions, including expanding background checks for gun purchases and “red flag” laws that allow courts to temporarily remove guns from people found to be a risk to themselves or others.

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Republican legislators have responded with their own pro-gun proposals, including changing state law to allow people to carry guns without a permit. State lawmakers are gathering for a hearing in Hibbing on Tuesday to discuss the dueling proposals.

Mekeland said he decided to send the letter after receiving numerous emails from constituents in the past year concerned over proposed gun control measures.

“It’s a God-given constitutional right to bear arms and defend yourself,” he said. “The message that I’m trying to drive is that just because one person doesn’t like it doesn’t mean you just get to undo the Constitution.”

Mekeland said he believes other Minnesota counties might follow suit and adopt similar resolutions.

“It’s had a tremendous amount of response from constituents all over,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of comments of, ‘When are you going to do Benton County? When are you going to do St. Louis County ... all these different counties that I don’t even represent. It’s certainly started a conversation that needed to be had.”

At its regular meeting on Tuesday, the Sherburne County board voted to send the proposed language to the county attorney for more information and discuss it at a future meeting.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday at the state Capitol, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he thinks the sanctuary resolution is “pretty much a moot point,” because state and federal firearms laws would be enforced anyway.

“I think it’s just another step in that battle against common sense, just reasonable safety precautions that we put in place,” Walz said.

Christine Castillo, a Monticello resident, is a volunteer with the Minnesota chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which lobbies for stricter gun laws. She called the sanctuary county designation a “meaningless measure.”

“The majority of Minnesota voters and our governor have already shared that they are gun sense advocates and that they want they are in favor of universal background checks and red flag laws,” she said. If the Legislature passes those measures, counties wouldn’t be able to defy state law, Castillo said.

MPR News reporter Brian Bakst contributed to this report.