Local sheriffs in dozens of counties across at least four states are pushing back on gun laws, vowing to create “gun sanctuaries”—cribbed from sanctuary cities for immigration—to selectively ignore gun laws they disagree with. It was inevitable that we’d get here, but that doesn’t make it any less horrifying.
The trend began last month in Washington, which in November passed Initiative 1639, a law raising the minimum age to buy a semi-automatic rifle to 21, mandating enhanced background checks, and adding other safety procedures. Almost half of Washington state’s sheriffs—primarily those serving rural jurisdictions with high gun ownership who voted against the measure—said they would not enforce part or all of the new law when it goes into effect in July. That movement has now spread to New Mexico, Oregon and Illinois, per a Reuters report today, which also notes that pro-gun activists in California, New York, Iowa, and Idaho are interested in similar campaigns to oppose laws in their own states.
The actions by local Washington law enforcement will likely set a political precedent for what happens in New Mexico, where the laws have yet to be passed. New Mexico’s Democratic-controlled state legislature is steadily advancing several gun control bills despite resounding opposition from the state’s sheriffs.
Per Reuters, this problem is widespread across dozens and dozens of counties:
“If they want to have their own laws, that’s fine. Don’t shove them on us down here,” said Dave Campbell, a member of the board of Effingham County, Illinois, about 215 miles (350 km) south of Chicago.
Support for Second Amendment sanctuaries has gained momentum in recent weeks, especially among county boards in New Mexico and Illinois.
Sixty-three counties or municipalities in Illinois have passed some form of a firearms sanctuary resolution and more are likely to, Campbell said.
Twenty-five of New Mexico’s 33 counties have passed resolutions to support sheriffs who refuse to enforce any firearms laws that they consider unconstitutional, according to the New Mexico Sheriffs Association. In some cases hundreds of pro-gun activists have packed county commissioner meetings.
Rural sheriffs find themselves in a tough spot. Most of their constituents oppose almost any gun control legislation. That means by enforcing the laws passed down to them by their state’s majority, they’re alienating most of the voters that put them in power. But their decision here is obviously a flagrant dereliction of their duty to enforce laws, especially ones that are desperately needed to keep their constituents safe. There’s no easy answer to this! If state attorneys generals crack down harder on local sheriffs, it’ll exacerbate the ‘big government coming for our guns’ narrative. But if the sheriffs don’t enforce the laws, the country’s rampant gun violence epidemic will continue unabated.
Another problem is the NRA and gun lobby’s blockade of comprehensive research, which continues to strip fact and logic out of the conversation even as state legislatures flip to the Democrats and allow some legislative progress. These are all facets of the same issue—how to decrease the sheer, unbelievable number of weapons in American society—and until they’re addressed, our people will continue to fill one another with lead. It used to be a sheriff’s job to prevent that.